I first saw these photographs by Gwen Smith when they would arrive in my mailbox each December as holiday cards. Most family cards that we receive depict awkwardly staged portraits that ruthlessly repress any tensions or interpersonal negotiations we all know were going on.
Smith takes a very different tack using play to amplify the character of her family relationships. The one constant is the presence of a Yoda mask, a depiction of the wise mentor from Star Wars. He appears as an unchanging avatar around which the annual ritual revolves.
In all but one image, it is worn by her husband, artist Haim Steinbach. We see the fashions of play changing as her son, River, grows up. We see him using play to define his own character, to draw closer to or resist the omnipresent Yoda.
I find the unusual invitation Smith makes with her family to roleplay with one another to be very vulnerable and moving.
Return to the artist page.