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Moving ‘Lovers Shirts’ Project Explores the Bittersweet Memories of Love Lost

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We’ve all had a relationship that just ended, either on a good note or bad note, leaving us with a longing, empty feeling. To our detriment, it’s a feeling that often has us latching onto every last memory and connection to that relationship that is left to us.

And it’s this exact clinging and longing that HERCLAYHEART, a photographer/writer duo consisting of Carla Richmond Coffing and Hanne Steen, wanted to capture in their powerful collaborative series Lovers Shirts.

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Created as an exploration into why we tend to latch onto the physical possessions of exes, particularly clothing, Lovers Shirts captures portraits of individuals wearing a shirt that belonged to an ex-lover.

“There is something about these pieces of clothing — even old and torn, they feel special, different than any other piece of clothing,” Steen says, specifically referencing a recent situation that “sparked [her] curiosity (and a little irrational jealousy) into the phenomenon of lovers’ shirts.”

Upon first look, you’ll almost immediately recognize the tears in the eyes of many of the subjects. And while they may look ‘put on’ or over-emphasized, it’s the process leading up to the capturing of these images that provokes the sad thoughts and brings up the difficult memories from lovers past.

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The subjects — both genders and all ages, sexual preferences and current relationship statuses are represented — spend the first half of the twenty-minute session sitting down and reflecting on the memories of the lover whose shirt their wearing.

“This has a calming, grounding effect, and establishes an atmosphere of trust,” says Steen. Once ten minutes has passed, “Carla steps in and starts quietly photographing, and after ten minutes I (Hanne) begin a gentle dialogue with the subject about their experience of reflecting on the questions.”

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The results speak for themselves. The portraits capture intimate, thoughtful moments and through them, beg us to ask ourselves the same questions about the lovers we’ve lost and remnants of them we might have hidden in a drawer or closet.

Below are a collection of images from the series, which HERCLAYHEART was kind enough to share with us. Before the images, however, there’s an accompanying poem made up of anonymous statements drawn from the subjects of these portraits.

The poem, Steen told The Huffington Post, “express the varied and simultaneously universal relationships we have with our lovers’ shirts,” and is a perfect prequel to the series itself.

It feels like a flag I can’t stop flying. It comforts me in the meantime between the spaces. It’s just a rag I turned into a promise that he would never leave. Some sort of common thread between us. Part of me wants to rip it off. So many what-ifs and could’ve-beens and should’ve-beens and never-weres. It’s just a shirt. It’s been there for me when people haven’t. It makes me feel childish and taken care of. It makes me look a little stronger than I am. As long as I hold onto the shirt she is never completely out of my life. I’d wear it every day if I could. As much as you build a house around it or put a ring on it it’s all still temporary and dissolving so all you can do is love it. Even if it’s painful we need to hold onto something. Proof that we did it. That we went through it. That we learned something. That our hearts were broken. That we were loved. That we weren’t loved enough. For someone I won’t be something that will be so easily shed.

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To see the rest of the images in the series (and there are many more) head over to the HERCLAYHEART website. And if you’d like to explore each of these artists’ work individually, you can follow writer Hanne Steen and photographer Carla Richmond Coffing by clicking here and here, respectively.

(via Huffington Post)


Credits: Photographs by Carla Richmond Coffing, writings by Hanne Steen and used with permission