A new photobook depicts the families of convicted criminals


In 2018, Wiosna van Bon’s 'Family Stranger' was shortlisted for the Unseen Dummy Award for its sensitive exploration and portrayal of the families of convicted criminals. The project aims to raise awareness of the personal struggles these families undergo when their siblings, spouses, children or parents are convicted for committing a crime. In this time, ethical questions are raised, familial bonds are put to the test, and relatives must come to terms with the crimes that have been committed.

Combining 25 family stories, 'Family Stranger' weaves together differing perspectives at various stages of their journey.

Daria Tuminas: How did you end up working on this subject, and why is it essential for you to channel it into the form of a photobook specifically?

Wiosna van Bon: People are always at the centre of my work. My projects are mostly about loneliness and disadvantaged groups in society – about those who, despite everything, persevere. I have always been interested in psychology, and in this project particularly, I found it fascinating how feelings and images one has of a family member can change. None of the family members I spoke with could believe that their loved one committed a crime. They struggled to come to terms with what had happened, as this new information didn’t align with the image they had in their head. How do you deal with this? Can you merge these two images into a new one, or are they separate from each other?

I interviewed and photographed twenty-five people. All had a different story, but they all underwent similar phases of processing it. You hardly ever hear the stories of these family members, so I started looking for a way to share this perspective as thoroughly as possible. I decided to make a photobook because I can combine the photos with interviews, which also play an important role.

I’m a paper lover and this is an intense subject, so even the touch of the paper is important to me. 'Family Stranger' is a book to pick up again and again, to look at the images, read the stories and find new connections.

DT: You were working on the project and the dummy during your studies at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague. How did the academy contribute to the production of the dummy?

WvB: 'Family Stranger' was my graduation project. At KABK they really push you to find a subject that you are truly interested in. It was during my discussions within the Academy that I realised I wanted to focus on the family members instead of the perspective of the prisoners. Any kind of creative surrounding helps when you are developing a new project. But the KABK focuses on teaching independent artists, so you have to make the main decisions about the subject, the direction and the tone you want to communicate, all by yourself.

I decided to continue working on 'Family Stranger' after graduation as it deals with such a complex subject. In the past year, I gave lectures and exhibitions in various environments – within the art world and also outside. When I presented it in public spaces I saw that people were really touched by the stories. So I believe the project fits both the art world and beyond.

DT: The designers of the dummy book were, alongside yourself, Artúr Andrási, Liza Szabó and Kylièn Bergh. I have rarely encountered a situation with so many design contributors. How did the design process work in this substantial group?

WvB: I am so grateful to all of the contributors. Liza Szabo helped me on various levels throughout the project, with the edit, the concept and the design. She was my “invisible” partner in the project. We really did it together. Artur and Kylien joined later in the process. In the dummy, they looked very carefully at how personal stories can be told through graphic design. They really looked at what the project needs and who I am as a maker.

Aside from these three, there were many more people who helped along the way. People who wanted to reflect with me, and who I felt supported by, such as the lithographer Sebastiaan Hanekroot, and those who accompanied me in prison and helped me contact the families. I had such a great collaboration with Sabina van Boxtel from Prison Vught, Exodus and with Terry Akins.

DT: 'Family Stranger'' will be published by the Dutch publishing house The Eriskay Connection. How did the collaboration begin?

WvD: For the book, I will work together with the designers and publishers Rob van Hoesel and Carel Fransen. I am really excited and happy that they believe in me as a maker, and that they want to work on a photobook by a young photographer. I have already experienced working with a team on the dummybook, so I have learned to listen to what others have to say about my work. Everyone has their own opinion, so it is good to listen to someone's arguments and let go of personal preferences. I also learned to say and stick to my own opinion, but to be open to collaboration. This is my first photobook and the first time that I’ve worked with a publisher, so I don't have a reference point for how the process normally goes. It will be a new adventure!

DT: You are now organising crowdfunding for 'Family Stranger' on the platform voordekunst, which is running until the 11th of July. How did you prepare the campaign, and what have you learned from this?

WvD: Crowdfunding is pretty tough, but I’ve learned a lot from it - especially that patience is important. It is hard work but you also need luck to find people who want to support you and those who see the importance of the subject. Voordekunst and KunstLoc Brabant gave me a lot of feedback during the crowdfunding, and Impulsgelden, a local fund, have supported me enormously in financing during the crowdfunding. I am very happy that they see the relevance in the project. The campaign runs until 11 July and all support is needed and very much appreciated!

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