"Lovers Shirts" is an ongoing collaborative portrait series between writer Hanne Steen and photographer Carla Richmond Coffing.
"The idea for 'Lovers Shirts' came from wearing my own boyfriends' t-shirts," says Hanne Steen. I still have my first boyfriend's shirt from high school. There is something about these pieces of clothing – even old and torn, they feel special, different than any other piece of clothing."
"After sitting with their feelings and their own image reflected back at them for about ten minutes, we begin a conversation, holding a safe space for the vulnerability that is triggered by this piece of fabric."
"Some are in relationships and some are not. Some left their relationship and some were left. Some are married, some engaged, some have not been in a relationship for decades. We are interested in each and every story."
"What is universal when it comes to love and loss? When you strip away place, history, and social context, what remains? What connects? What are the common threads?"
"I think we are all hungry to feel and share these deep, intense, complex emotions, but so rarely are we given permission, and so rarely are they simply accepted without judgement."
"Often after a break-up, we are met with things like 'you just need to let him go' or 'you can do better than that' or 'it wasn't meant to be' and other such clichés which do not do justice to the complexity of the human experience of love and loss."
Hanne and Carla also put together a long, anonymous poem strung from statements from their subjects:
"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."