Playing Dress Up: Liv Liberg’s Epic 15-Year Portrait of Sisterhood

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Sister Sister
MarchPhotography by Liv Liberg

Dutch photographer Liv Liberg spent a decade and a half photographing her younger sister. Here, she tells AnOther the story behind the sprawling project

Though it sounds too incredible to be true, Liv Liberg began shooting her recently-published book Sister Sister when she was just ten years old. The joyful, organic monograph is a culmination of 15 years spent photographing her younger sister Britt – a mammoth project which began accidentally, as two girls simply playing dress up in their parents’ wardrobe, and evolved into a dedicated photographic study of sisterly ties, female identity, and the passage to womanhood. 

Born to creative parents in Utrecht, The Netherlands, Liberg and her siblings grew up near a farm in the verdant Dutch countryside and spent their childhood roaming freely in nature. When they weren’t outdoors, Liberg and her sister would secretly rifle through their parents’ walk-in wardrobe, which was filled with incredible pieces by Japanese designers like Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garçons, and Kenzo, as well as vintage Chanel and Mugler.

Liberg would adorn her sister in fantastical looks found in this treasure trove, adding theatrical splashes of her mother’s make-up, and take her portrait in the wild surrounding forest. “These clothes were special and I feel lucky that we were exposed to them from such a young age,” Liberg tells AnOther. “And that we were sassy enough to steal them for our shoots and put them back without my mom finding out.”

After digging up these old photographs three years ago, as she finished a degree in photography at the Royal Academy of Art at The Hague, Liberg felt moved to create something lasting from them, and returned to photographing her sister once more.  Shortlisted for the Prix du livre d’Auteur at this year’s Les Rencontres d’Arles photo festival, the resulting book, Sister Sister, is structured in chapters which follow the months of the year – traversing through stages of joy, awkwardness, and finally a quiet confidence in the book’s concluding portraits, where Britt is a young woman. 

“The years are mixed, but all images are actually shot in those months,” says Liberg. “This made the edit more easy and less emotional or visual based. The idea of months is also poetic I think, and does give a certain feeling or colour to view the images with, but it also doesn’t give away everything.” Her favourite month, she adds, is April; “It’s the most performative and expressive, and maybe just the weirdest chapter of all.”

Though the emotion behind the images change as Britt grows older, there is a sense of performance and play which is maintained throughout the book. “Britt was a professional ballet dancer so she loved performing, moving, and is still very powerful at that,” says Liberg. “We shot a lot together in the last few years, which made the project more intimate, serious and intense.”

As the book makes its way into the world, Liberg hopes that Sister Sister can offer a celebratory portrait of young womanhood, as well as highlighting the importance of play in daily life. “I think that it’s important you are able to feel free and creative as much as possible – and that nothing weird you do can be weird enough,” she says. “Also feeling confident in your body and exploring this and your identity in as many ways as possible. Play is so important.”

Poignantly, her latest project – a personal assignment for Acne Studios, commissioned by the label’s new creative editor, Isabella Burley – sees Liberg dress up her sister and photograph her in the Dutch outdoors once again. “In a way, it is just another continuation of the book,” says Liberg. “Working for brands in this way, where you don’t have to compromise, is something amazing.” 

Sister Sister is out now and is available via Art Paper Editions.