It all started six years ago, when Emer Gillespie got an idea...
The mom and photographer from Brighton, England, had first set out to capture her "alternative domestic partnership" with daughter Laoisha's father in a piece she would call Two Homes. But it wasn't long before its main subject—Laoisha—inspired an even more personal photo series.
“As Laoisha was the main subject in this project, and was photographed all the time, she began to request that she took a photo before I took a photo," Gillespie told TODAY.com. "In my sketchbook, all these double portraits started to appear, and I was fascinated by the photographer/subject role reversal.”
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Suddenly, Picture You, Picture Me was born in 2008, and the mother-daughter duo would spend the subsequent years trading the camera back and forth, capturing a unique series of shared moments that reflected near-identical scenes. First, it would be mom behind the lens. Next, it would be Laoisha.
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More Than Just Snapshots
The project would prove to be more than just a lesson in photography for little Laoisha, who is now 11 years old. As Gillespie told TODAY.com, she has watched her daughter, who has Down syndrome, learn to express herself in ways she didn't even know were possible.
According to Gillespie,"Laoisha's verbal and visual language, especially at the beginning, were quite limited, and so this was an invaluable way of spending time one on one, and allowing her to choose positions, facial expressions and activities."
Slowly but surely, Laoisha began directing the scenes herself, as mom proudly sat back and watched. This shot, for example, was all her idea.
"She really thrives in learning new things, taking control, and then seeing the prints," Gillespie told TODAY.com.
Under the Covers
In one of their first photos from 2008, Emer and Laoisha took turns wrapping themselves in a cozy comforter to snap this side-by-side image, titled Body Wrap.
Sometimes, mom and daughter would snap photos as simple and everyday as braiding each other's hair. This sweet scene dates back to 2011.
Upon its release, Gillespie's photo series drew such acclaim, it was noted in Critical Mass's Top 50 Portfolio of 2013, an annual photography competition. The touching images have also made their way to exhibits in New York, London and Portugal.
Let's Go Fly a Kite...
Despite all of its success so far, Gillespie says she would stop the photo project at a moment's notice if Laoisha were no longer interested.
“As soon as she expresses her wish to not take part in the project, it will end,” Gillespie told the site.
This scene was another one of Laoisha's ideas—morning tooth-brushing.
Hitting the Beach
"I think the most important thing is to enjoy the session," Emer told TODAY.com.
In this photo, from 2012, mom and daughter lounge on the beach and help each other put on sunscreen.
Out of Her Shell
Both behind and in front of the lens, Laoisha's confidence has grown tremendously. She "has taken more and more control of the camera and of me," writes Gillespie on her photography website.
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According to Gillespie, "The more [kids] feel like they are making the decisions and influencing the images, the more they will enjoy it."
Looking Toward the Future
Already thinking ahead, Gillespie says the photos will one day go into a book she plans to make Laoisha for her 18th birthday.
Creating Memories, Not Photos
For parents looking to create similar scenes with their own kids, Gillespie suggests you think about the experience, rather than the image itself.
"I think the most important thing is to enjoy the session, without worrying too much about what the images will turn out like," she told TODAY.com. "Some of the images Laoisha has taken have been out of focus, but that's [OK]."