Creative Collaborators: Charlie Engman and Kathleen McCain Engman

In a new series that looks into what makes for a successful creative partnership, we speak to photographer Charlie Engman and his mother, Kathleen McCain Engman, about their decade-long collaboration

The dynamic between model and photographer is one that’s been analysed and romanticised many times over the years. The exchange, in its most basic sense, takes the form of the photographer directing the model, the model interpreting those directions and together they try to solve the brief they’ve been given. On top of the skills and experience of both parties though, it’s also about the connection and chemistry between the model and photographer to turn a simple photo into an image that connects with people.  

What can help this relationship flourish is familiarity but also a willingness from both the model and photographer to fully commit to the cause. For US photographer Charlie Engman, he’s found this readiness in his mother, Kathleen McCain Engman. Over the last decade, Charlie has photographed Kathleen in close collaboration, and while they’ve progressed into fully blown fashion shoots, magazine editorials and even runways, the collaboration started fairly naturally.

“When I was first discovering photography, I had an insatiable appetite for subjects. I photographed Mom because she was available and amenable,” says Charlie. “As with most relationships, making this body of work with her was a slow, accumulative process, punctuated by sporadic bursts of energy.”

All images from Mom by Charlie Engman

For Kathleen, it felt organic in that it started as Charlie simply asking for help. “I’m not sure Charlie’s ever asked me to pose for him, per se,” says Kathleen. “My earliest recollection of being on this side of the lens is of me doing whatever I’m doing in my office or around the house and hearing Charlie call out: ‘Hey, are you busy right now? Could you come here for a minute?’.

“Ten minutes later I’m crouching in a hallway or on the living room floor with sunlight slanting in just so, and he’s laying fabric scraps and flowers around my face. Or maybe I’m towelling off after a shower when he calls out from his workspace, and I find myself stepping straight into my winter coat and a pair of boots as he tosses me a wig so we can run outside and catch a freak snowfall in the pine grove behind the split-level we briefly rented.”