Few relationships are as strong ― or as complicated ― as those between sisters.
In her new book, simply titled Sisters, photographer Sophie Harris-Taylor portrays that special bond between female siblings of all ages. Harris-Taylor began taking the pictures in and around London two years ago and ended up photographing just under 80 people. (The book is pared down to 42.)
Each photo is accompanied by a short interview with the sisters, written by journalist Emma Finamore. Some of them speak of strained moments in their relationships ― childhood arguments in shared bedrooms and periods of jealousy ― but through it all, their bonds have endured.
As one younger sister named Flo puts it, “I’m probably more happy and comfortable in [my older sister’s] company than anyone else’s.”
In an interview with HuffPost, Harris-Taylor said the book was inspired by her sister and their relationship, which she admits is a work in progress.
“For years, I felt a pressure to conform and have a kind of relationship with my own sister that for so many reasons didn’t come naturally,” she said. “Like all relationships, it changes and recently we’ve been in touch more. I would never close that door.”
Below, read excerpts from the book, which is available from Hoxton Mini Press.
Almost 10 years apart, these two live far apart, too – Kate in America and Anna in London. Growing up, Anna was wrapped up in cotton wool and close to her parents, while Kate was more independent, the black sheep of the family. Nowadays, Anna is the social butterfly; Kate can be more socially awkward. The rare time they do manage to spend together is pretty intense, but it means they value it all the more.
Kate: “I’m envious … but not in a negative way. I think Anna is so ridiculously talented and beautiful, and I’m quite jealous that she’s taller than me and has more freckles.”
Anna: “It’s exactly the same for me – envious – ’cause Kate’s the better looking, more talented, brainier, achiever of the family."
Like many sisters of their age, these two have a love-hate relationship. Freya steals clothes from Georgia’s room, and when Georgia has friends over she’ll hang around wanting to join in the fun, which causes arguments. Their rooms are next to each other, though, so they often talk and do nails together; and when Georgia goes away they stay in touch on Instagram – Freya misses having someone to talk to in the car.
Georgia: “I always wanted a younger sister and I was begging Mum … please, please have another one.”
Growing up in Malaysia, Anne was a mini-skirt-wearing rebel in matching knickers like her heroine Twiggy, running around with a gang of boys, riding about on baby cows, making catapults and toy guns, while Meng stayed home being good. Anne’s rebellious streak got her sent to an English-style boarding school, escaping the chores that Meng -- educated in the Chinese system -- was responsible for in the family home. The contrasts continued into adulthood, but they’re closer now despite their differences.
Meng: “I was always jealous of her.”
Anne: “I was never jealous of you.”
This big group of sisters (with three brothers too, so there are nine siblings in total) has formed smaller groups within the unit. Often the youngest two are best friends, and the teens team up. Flo and Oki call themselves the ‘holding forces,’ bridging the gap between the youngers and elders, while Flo supports everyone as the oldest. She spends long stretches away from home on tour as a musician, which can be painful: Flo misses out on seeing the youngest growing up, while they all wish she could be around more.
Bea: “I’m having seven children and three dogs and a cat and two fish and a hamster, but I also might want to adopt children.”
Despite both being quite quiet, Michelle and Rachel speak to each other daily -- sometimes hourly -- via FaceTime, text, WhatsApp or Instagram. They both live with their husbands now but still socialize a lot and love to travel together. They reminisce about their crazy trip to Las Vegas, or a time in Ibiza when Michelle remembers a scorching hot walk back from a tiny beach, with their hair big and curly from sea and sunshine, giggling as they went.
Michelle: “When we speak about having children my husband only wants boys and he is like, ‘I don’t mind one girl,’ and I’ve always said, ‘No, you would have to have more than one girl because every girl needs a sister.’”
This is a very new relationship: Jessie is just eight months old. Grace was an only child until three years ago when her little brother (Jessie’s older brother) was born, and she thinks this has given her the best of both worlds: now she has the fun of experiencing siblings -- and they’ll never have to fight over toys. Grace already thinks her brother is like her, while her baby sister is more laid back.
Grace: “She’s so young, she doesn’t really have any personality yet.”
These sisters have had very different lives. Clare has struggled for independence in spite of a disability, while Juliet has had to support the whole family (at least that’s how it feels) including their other two sisters. Clare was sent to boarding school when she was seven and was terribly homesick, but the two still share some childhood memories like taking the blue pram out for a walk with their dolly called Pixie and going to the corner shop for ice cream. Juliet admires Clare’s strength, even if she doesn’t always answer the phone.
Clare: “You’re very helpful and kind.”
Juliet: “I thought you were going to say, ‘She’s an old boot.’”
Clare: “Shut up.”
Though they might argue about sharing things and sometimes interrupt each other’s play dates, Mimi and Coco are pretty good friends. In fact, that’s how they usually make up after a fight: Mimi will ask if they can be friends again. They love sharing a bedroom because at night they can go mad and chat until the small hours, and jump around. Mimi will also get into Coco’s bed when she’s had a bad dream about the scary creature coming up the stairs.
Coco: “She likes to be the same as me.”
Mimi: “I sometimes call Coco, ‘Mimi.’”
These sisters are the same star sign but have completely different personalities. Vicky is wilder and will cry at anything, where Sam tends not to show her emotions, except when she argued with their dad as a teenager -- she always had to have the last word -- and last summer on holiday, when she threw a drink in Vicky’s face. They both work in PR now, so maybe they’re more alike than they think.
Vicky: “We’ve talked about moving out of London and I don’t know if I could do that ’cause I wouldn’t be near to her, it would be weird.”
Sam: “We will be in an old people’s home together.”
Both chameleons, these sisters can seamlessly slot into each other’s social worlds -- it doesn’t matter that Sabrina is a self-described mainstream Essex girl (despite being the wild child when they were young) while Rochelle, an actor, is more arty. They lived apart for a few years when their parents divorced -- a shock, as they’d seemed like the perfect Brady Bunch family -- but they would meet every Monday at The Windsor pub in Paddington to keep up their sisterly bond.
Rochelle: “Literally every Monday we would meet up and we would set the world to rights, and catch up and have a moan and a cry, and have a week’s worth of sisterhood in that time.”
The youngest two in this group are self-proclaimed opposites: Sienna is a tomboy, into cars and Xbox and climbing trees like a monkey, while Kianna is a girly girl. With four brothers as well, Rhianne sees herself as in the middle. She and Anaya aren’t keen on sharing a room, except when they can’t sleep at night.
Rhianne: “I don’t like cheese and tomato, and they all like cheese and tomato.”
Unity and Zita like having each other around -- a sister is someone to talk to but also someone to play funny pranks on. Unity feels protective over Zita, sometimes even when her friends come over to play, but gets annoyed when her younger sister copies her. She’s also the quieter of the two, and Zita is more boisterous (at least in public) but they enjoy the same music and toys, and are very good at sharing these. They both like rollercoasters too, sharing the thrill of speeding up and down, and enjoy a good argument -- as long as it doesn’t last too long.
Unity: “Sometimes if I’m angry, I can talk to Zita really fast ’cause she will understand."