Brian Shumway is a Brooklyn-based photographer who studied anthropology and philosophy at the University of Utah. After living briefly in San Francisco, he moved eastward. Brian’s clients include Time, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, People, and others. His work has been exhibited in New York and internationally and appeared in Communication Arts, American Photography, and the Photo Review. Brian was included in Magenta Foundation’s Emerging 30 Photographers twice (2006 and 2008) and made their Top 100 list in 2014. His work has also been featured in several online publications, such as TIme’s Lightbox and Wired. Today we look at his series Happy Valley.
“Every family has a hidden past. Mine is no exception. Growing up, I’d hear family secrets from adults in hushed tones: Divorce, betrayal, suicide, alcoholism, mental illness, poverty and death. How could this be my family? As a sheltered suburban kid from a religious home, this taboo history clashed with my understanding of my self, my parents, and my predecessors. Happy Valley connects this colorful past with my family’s precarious present.
This story actually begins in a small town Wyoming bar. There, my father, a married Mormon man of five, former coal miner, and mobile home dealer, began a love affair with my mother, a much younger impressionable woman whose alcoholic father committed suicide. An unexpected pregnancy ensued, leading to a debilitating divorce from his first wife and a second marriage with five more children. With only a high school education, my father provided a comfortable suburban, middle-class life in Arizona, then Texas, then Oklahoma. At age 11, I awoke to my mother shrieking at the abrupt, premature death of my father. Eighteen months later, my mother committed to a troubled new marriage with a family friend who had seven children of his own and moved to Happy Valley in Utah. Now, my sixteen siblings are parents with children who are the heirs to this colorful and convoluted family history.
Families are messy institutions, whose lines are blurred by blood and law. Historical unpleasantries are swept under the rug and sometimes erased from memory. My family now lives a seemingly normal, modestly privileged suburban life – where the fading American Dream offers a safer, quieter future with ever increasing home values. It’s the perfect escape from an irksome past. However, Happy Valley embraces this forbidden history by chronicling the everyday personal lives and relationships of my nieces and nephews as they come of age in the waning days of the American suburbs. Through portraits and unscripted moments, an intimate, quirky, and slightly dystopian narrative links one generation’s tangled history with another’s that is yet to be written.”
To view more of Brian’s work please visit his website.
Brian is also featured in our newest issue From Here On. Pre-order your copy now!