More than 40 years after they were first taken, photographer Jim Britt’s captivating snapshots of his daughters are available to buy, in the form of a 24-page document
In 1976, photographer Jim Britt was at home in LA with his two young daughters and, realising they were in a playful mood, decided to recreate a ‘high fashion photo shoot’ with them. Jody and Melendy assumed the requisite pose – back to back, faces concentrated on mirroring a subdued pout – and managed to hold it for all of a couple of seconds before they both broke into peals of laughter. Britt, of course, snapped away all the while.
The resulting images are a pure expression of joy and youth and intimacy, and would go on to become some of the most magical of his career. “I don’t think there’s anything that you can say, actually,” Britt tells me over the phone. “It just works, you know? A good picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words.”
Little did he know at the time the resonance these pictures would go on to have. Some years later, in 1984, Britt showed them to a photo editor at People magazine in New York, trying to ascertain whether his own belief in their worth was simply misplaced paternal pride. “The photo editor was looking at them and remarked, ‘I have a sister’ – she seemed really touched,” Britt writes. “Then she got up and took the box of photos and said, ‘Wait here,’ and walked down the hall. In about ten minutes she came back and said, ‘Can you leave them? They’re going to run it.’ Well, I was stunned.”
That issue of People magazine, consequently, fell into the hands of a member of Comme des Garçons’ PR team, who, similarly captivated, recognised in the shots a shred of the gritty originality that permeated all of the visionary brand’s campaigns at the time. She reached out and, within the year, the laughing image – ostensibly the series’ champion shot – was being printed in magazines and on billboards around the world for Comme des Garçons’ A/W88 campaign.
“They so perfectly capture the magic awkwardness of adolescence, and the unselfconscious, but magnetic spirit of girlhood,” Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of Dazed magazine, explains. “It’s a moment we spend a lifetime holding on to. When they then became a Comme des Garçons campaign 12 years after they were first taken, the Sisters image took on a whole new life. As a campaign image it’s unstaged, joyful and flawed, everything fashion advertising wasn’t. It speaks to the pioneering spirit of Rei Kawakubo to recognise the power in this image and make it one of their early advertising campaigns.”
This week, Burley launches a self-published book dedicated to these images. Entitled SISTERS by Jim Britt, 1976, the 24-page document, art directed by Jamie Andrew Reid, comprises a series of unpublished outtakes, a double-sided poster, new interviews with Jody and Melendy themselves and a short statement from Britt, too. There’s also a series of three double-sided posters, available to buy now online.
Burley doesn’t remember the first time she saw the photograph, “but I so wish I did!” she says. “It just feels like an image I’ve had with me forever, and maybe that’s part of the magic.” Four years ago, she wrote an article about it for this website – to which Britt soon responded. “Jim emailed me out of the blue four years ago (strangely it was on October 4th, which is the date of the launch) to thank me. He wanted to send me a print from his home in Idaho! I was so touched, and taken aback. There had been this image I’d loved for almost a decade but I didn’t know who had shot it, or the story behind it. So of course, I asked Jim to tell me the story behind its creation. We began an email exchange, and then he shared the incredible outtakes taken during that photo session. Four years later, we finally turned it into a book!”
In an era when photographs are no sooner taken than shared online, decontextualised, and distanced from their authors, now seems an apt moment to share these photographs with the world in their printed iterations, and to celebrate the unlikely and yet utterly deserved route they have taken through popular culture. “These images are over four decades old and deserve to be treasured,” Burley continues. “Most importantly, I felt it was so important to tell the secret untold story behind their creation. They are precious on so many levels that they needed to become something physical.”
SISTERS by Jim Britt, 1976, and a limited-edition poster set, are available to buy online now. The book launches from 6–8pm on October 4, 2018, at Dover Street Market London.