01.21.2022 Caroline Tran

A Domestic Vestige

Caroline Tran

Inspiring, creative, and fun, Caroline Tran documents life with her easygoing and vivacious personality, and wants to inspire and help others succeed with their creative businesses too.

Cherished and preserved, family portraits create long-lasting memories that endure for generations. For her latest project, Caroline Tran sets out to craft compelling mementos of her own

Somewhere in the luminous landscapes of California’s Joshua Tree Park, Caroline Tran is quiet and focused, observantly adjusting the cogs of her FUJIFILM camera. Working amongst acres of sand and soil, her surroundings are an evocative incarnation of the Golden State’s charm – its dazzling contours the ideal backdrop for captivating portraiture. Documenting the domestic relations of two separate families, Caroline’s portraits are light-hearted reflections of carefree attachments – images that speak to the longstanding importance of familial memories, bound forever with the sharp snap of a shutter. In this interview, she discusses her process, and how creating these images facilitated a new chapter in her storytelling focus.

“Whose legacy are we documenting? I used to think it was the children, but during this project, I realized that it’s also a reflection of how the parents want to be remembered,” she explains. “The emotions are too complex for the youngsters to understand now, but they’re feelings that will make sense in years to come.” Beyond the surface sheen and aesthetic pleasure of well-presented photographs, Caroline questions what it means to maintain the recollection of a moment. More than just pictures, these likenesses are a way for parents to fashion memories for their children: retentions that will form a basis for nostalgia as they reach adulthood. “I photographed two families for this project. One had a one-year-old pandemic baby, and it was their first family photo shoot. I’d worked with the other family in the past, when the mother had two children. A pandemic later and she’s got four! To photograph such significant milestones was honestly an honor.”

  • A happy Asian family, smiling beside a tree in the sun
  • A jovial family of three pose for the camera

Photos 2021 © Caroline Tran | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/320 sec at F1.7, ISO 50 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/500 sec at F1.7, ISO 50

Though subjects are undoubtedly the most important facet of portraiture, an absorbing locale is crucial when creating engaging imagery. Without the right scenery, expressions can appear sterile, and surroundings seem stark. Opting for the soft radiance of Joshua Tree, one couldn’t imagine a more apt location for affectionate familial portrayals. The climate makes Caroline’s photos gleam. “Throughout the pandemic, people have started exploring the beauty of local spaces, and that’s really great,” she remarks. “I go to Joshua Tree a lot. I love the environment. The trees are so whimsical, they look like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. The golden fields are wonderful, and there’s always such beautiful, classic light formations. The entire place just screams California. That’s why I photographed one family at sunrise, and the other at sunset. We were able to make use of golden hour for both. To put it bluntly, I’m obsessed. I even have favorite trees that I like to document!”

  • A father playfully holds his infant son in the air, accompanied by his smiling wife
  • A smiling family of six crowd together, smiling amidst golden sunlight

Photos 2021 © Caroline Tran | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/500 sec at F1.7, ISO 50 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/320 sec at F1.7, ISO 50

When it comes to equipment and setup, Caroline adopts a minimalist attitude, preferring to do away with needless impediments. “I’m not a gearhead. I’m more about the emotional connection, so I need an easy-to-use camera,” she outlines. “I don’t like to spend too much time behind a computer, endlessly editing. I need something that works fast. I prefer to expend energy on connecting with my subjects.” Back in the days of celluloid and darkrooms, Caroline cut her teeth in medium format environments, establishing her style with FUJICOLOR 400H film. Accustomed to a particular kind of process, the switch to digital initially proved frustrating, especially amid a fluid, rapidly shifting landscape. “I just couldn’t get it to resemble my film work,” she laments. “I would use a 645 analog film camera. I also had a very standard, digital, full-frame SLR. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t replicate that look. It wasn’t the same aspect ratio, and the previews were never the same as what I ended up with.

“That really dampened my inspiration, and to be honest, it all but killed my creativity. For a long time, I was lost. But then I discovered Fujifilm, and everything changed. It was quite profound… The previews were exactly the same as the images I captured, and that brought back the excitement of shooting film again.” For this project, Caroline used the GFX100S. Accurate previewing capabilities galvanized her confidence and enthusiasm, instilling her with the assurance to realize her vision. “I’d screen each image with the film simulation – PRO Neg. Hi – which is very similar to what my 645 images looked like. That instant gratification and positive reinforcement is what I needed. The large LCD screen is just what I envisaged in my head.” As well as the main body, Caroline required a lens that could reproduce the bokeh and compression of her filmic camera, with comparable efficiency. She found a suitable candidate in the FUJIFILM GF80mmF1.7 R WR. “It was like the old film days. Around 90% of my work is one body, one lens, and this one is so versatile – it’s perfect for the types of portraits I’m trying to create.”

  • In the background, a couple embrace in shallow focus. In the foreground, two toddlers playfully cover their faces
  • A man embraces his elderly relative, kissing her forehead

Photos 2021 © Caroline Tran | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/320 sec at F1.7, ISO 50 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/800 sec at F1.7, ISO 50

Overcoming the discreet tensions that define most family dynamics, Caroline’s portraits exemplify the warmth of unconditional love, as well as the playful annoyances of closely formed ties. In order to achieve this cleverly pitched mixture of sentiment, she maintained a sense of humor when photographing children, whilst establishing a level of geniality with the adults. “Any time I could get the kids to engage with the landscape, I seized the moment. It kept them entertained and interested. I encouraged older siblings to climb the rocks, while the younger ones explored the grounds. I create lots of games, and children obviously relish a challenge. I allocated objectives, and as they were preoccupied, that provided me with perfect moments to create. Those ‘assignments’ worked really well: make your brother laugh; make your sister laugh, etc. I also got the kids to engage with the LCD screen. They felt they were part of the process, and you could tell they relished the sense of participation that accompanies a purposeful, collaborative effort.

“As for the adults, I identified my allies, and tried to figure out who might be resistant. For instance, I’d put more effort into communicating with the coy personalities, determining a connection before we began. An interest, a hobby, something. Then I’d lean into it when we began. As a general rule of thumb, I find that really helps people loosen up. As for the more dominant character, I’d be more light-hearted and humorous. That balance is what helped produce a convincing outcome… a combination of silliness and soberness – just like a family.” 

  • A mother holds her infant son in the air, leaning against her husband on an overturned branch
  • Sitting atop her father's shoulders, a little girl places her hands over his eyes

Photos 2021 © Caroline Tran | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/640 sec at F1.7, ISO 50 | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/100 sec at F1.7, ISO 100

Drawing upon her insight and wisdom, Caroline Tran’s photographs are commanding testaments. In the eye of her camera, family bonds are ceaseless and interminable – distilled within a frame that does not expire.

Photo 2021 © Caroline Tran | FUJIFILM GFX100S and GF80mmF1.7 R WR, 1/800 sec at F1.7, ISO 50

Behind the Scene Footage