The photographer’s new book and exhibition, I’d like to get to know you, documents a summer spent reconnecting with her sister Alida in Devon. “I hope you can see how much I love her through these images,” she says
Taking someone’s picture can be an incredibly intimate act – something which London-based photographer Francesca Allen is more aware of than most. “As a photographer, you have such a responsibility to the person you’re representing,” Allen told AnOther back in 2018. “Ultimately, you are asking for something from them.”
This empathetic approach is felt across Allen’s portfolio, which straddles the worlds of fashion and documentary photography, and ranges from personal projects to work for publications like Vogue, Dazed and i-D. Allen’s gentle yet gripping photographs primarily investigate themes of friendship, female bonds, and the magic held in that exchange between photographer and subject.
Published in 2018, her first monograph Aya saw Allen spend a month in Japan photographing musician Aya Yanase, who she met by chance at the Gotokuji cat temple in Tokyo. By the end of their month together the pair had grown extremely close – sharing a tearful goodbye on Allen’s departure – and the resulting book formed a tender portrait of their bond. Also exploring ideas of female closeness, though in a more sprawling nature, was Allen’s later California project, which saw the photographer take the portraits of 50 women up and down the American state – from couples, to skaters, artists, mothers, park rangers and more.
Her most personal project to date, Allen’s new book sees the photographer turn the camera on her younger sister, Alida. Shot over the course of one summer at their mum’s house in Devon, the book is a heady immersion into the sisters’ relationship, captured against the bucolic backdrop of British summertime in full swing – from gorgeous fields of poppies in bloom and swims in rocky rivers, to suntans in swimsuits and glowing-orange sunsets.
“I’ve always loved photographing Alida,” Allen tells AnOther. “When you work on a project over a longer period of time, you can be selective about when you make the work. The book shows the best parts of every day – we only shot when the light was good, and when we were in the mood.”
Though they are close in many ways, the sisters are aged seven years apart – a gap which has formed something of a distance between them. “We weren’t in the same worlds growing up, never at the same schools,” explains Allen, who says the project – which is titled I’d like to get to know you – brought them closer together. “For me, the book feels like looking in a mirror; it’s almost impossible to see it from an outsiders’ perspective, [but] I hope you can see how much I love her through these images. It’s also a story of my relationship with Alida, which hasn’t always been straightforward, and her own relationship with herself.”
This experience of connecting through the camera traces back to Allen’s personal approach, where portraiture is much more like a conversation than a one-way exchange. “Photographing somebody is always so intimate, it can feel quite confronting,” she says. “It was interesting to explore this as two adults. When I’ve photographed Alida in the past, it’s almost been in an older sister role. It felt like we were on equal terms for the first time, which was difficult to navigate at points.”
Ultimately, though, Allen hopes the book has a joyful feel to it; a celebration of sisterly ties and the unique beauty of the British countryside. “I’d like it to feel a bit hopeful and light, and fun,” she says. “Perhaps the photos don’t feel serious or meaningful at first glance, but when you spend more time with them, you can choose to perceive them differently. That’s why this project makes sense as a book; you can find something new each time you look at it.”