Carrie Levy began taking photos of her family when she turned 15 and her father, Glenn, was incarcerated for over four years. The book begins with a short statement written this year; nine years after Carrie began her “diary of his absence”. She did not want to know then what crime he was guilty of, and still does not to this day. Her way of dealing, at such a sensitive age, with the changes that were occurring within her life was to distance herself from behind a camera lens.
The image chosen for the cover, a photo of the Levy family home, seems to be the most appropriate way of introducing the story – we are invited to enter their private domestic space and voyeuristically witness aspects of their life together – everything from sleeping to ironing and vacantly staring out of the window, deep in thought – only leaving the home to document the trips to visit Glenn at Allenwood Federal Prison Camp.
The 90 colour images within represent glimpses of all-American, middle-class family life, not unlike a typical family album of snapshots, yet with a noticeable emphasis on details and objects. The dark and saturated photos attempt to reveal an absence and a sluggishness of time – a wedding portrait lying abandoned on a bare mattress in a shadowy room or the recurring series of the backyard and its guises shifting with the seasons. These observations are repeated throughout, yet a sense of the longevity of 51 months of time passing is not all that obvious.
In the second half of the book we see Glenn enter into the camera frame and return to family life. His homecoming is treated with a journalistic approach – Carrie is able to remove herself from the situation so as to render the images virtually devoid of emotion, not least evidence that they were captured by his daughter. This is an abrupt end to the story, we are not left with any clues as to where life has gone since then, only provided with a limited chronicle of a rough period of time, which finishes with Glenn’s account – his time in jail and his feelings towards Carrie’s insistent photographing during his homecoming – it is half of his apology to her.
Such a personal project as 51 Months can only be entirely significant to Carrie herself and her family members. The purpose behind its publishing remains as ambiguous as the crime that resulted in its conception.