Documentary family photographer Casie Zalud dusted off an old iPhone one day in the fall of 2018 and gave it to her then four-year-old daughter, Linnéa, to use as a camera. They set off into the world (their Boulder neighborhood) to see, well, whatever Linnéa wanted to see—and capture.
The idea was to create art together: Linnéa would shoot whatever she wanted: grass, the dog’s fur, the land zipping by from a car window, her own reflection in a window. Zalud would later edit the photos down to those she found most compelling, and then take a photo that complemented her daughter’s in some way: in form, shape, subject, light, or movement.
“Going through her photos and seeing what she thought was worthy of a photograph really forced me to slow down,” Zalud says. “All these things around me every day—Linnéa is finding beauty in them.”
Each pair of images—called a diptych—is a kind of call-and-response between mother and daughter. Though the work began simply as a personal project for Zalud, it has grown into an art exhibition at the Frederic C. Hamilton Family Gallery at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Aurora campus. On display through June 30, the show is named for the project: Relinquish: A Photographic Conversation Between Mother and Daughter.
“What I love about Casie’s idea is she’s weaving in the concepts of adults—parents—letting go of their grown-up perspectives and perceptions of the world and dropping into what our kids are seeing,” says Heidi Huisjen, the arts program coordinator at the hospital.
When Zalud’s portfolio first crossed Huisjen’s desk, she found the work “super compelling” she says. Together, with help from a crowdfunding campaign through the hospital and printing from local photo company Reed Art & Imaging (which printed the images at cost), the women created the show.
A public show, though thrilling for Zalud, was never the real goal. When she handed the camera—clad in a sparkly purple case to boost its durability and appeal—to Linnéa, she was looking only for fresh inspiration.
In her professional life, she captures “the everyday lives of families,” she says, which means her clients invite her into their homes to photograph the beautiful and the mundane of a normal day together. No matching outfits. No holding hands in a field of golden native grasses.
“It’s not for everybody,” she laughs. “There are some people who wonder why they’d want a photo of themselves looking exhausted because they have a newborn baby, and some people who never want to forget that feeling.”
The emotion connected to the image—that’s what Zalud is after, both in her professional work and in Relinquish. The magic, she says, is in the combination of memory and feeling, and not surprisingly, that mix is what Linnéa, who is now six, loves too—in her own childlike way.
“It’s really fun,” Linnéa says of taking photos. “You can look at everything around you and take pictures of anything you want and then you can remember it. It makes me happy.”
Zalud hopes her daughter’s enthusiasm endures. “My pie-in-the-sky dream is that we will do this through Linnéa’s childhood and into adulthood,” she says. “I think it would be amazing to see how [the project] evolves, how our relationship evolves.” But she’ll only keep it up as long as Linnéa is willing—Zalud says she lets her daughter take the lead. After all, it’s that approach that delivered the inspiration she sought as a photographer and reminded her of a truth parents know but often forget: “When we give kids independence,” she says, “when we give them freedom to explore the littlest things they see on the ground or the weird patterns on the sidewalk, they flourish.” And so do we.
* The Relinquish photo collection can be viewed at casiezalud.com under “Projects” and will return to Children’s Hospital Colorado campus in March 2021 for the Month of Photography exhibit.