The Artist Who Helped Imogen Binnie Develop Her Own Creative Identity

The “Nevada” writer came across Sybil Lamb’s illustrations two decades ago and thought, “Someone out there is doing this thing that I don’t even know how to articulate.”

Article by Coco Romack

Mothers and Daughters_Sybil LambFrom left: Sybil Lamb, 47, illustrator and writer, “I’ve Got a Time Bomb” (2014), and Imogen Binnie, 44, writer, “Nevada” (2013), photographed at Binnie’s home near Brattleboro, Vt., on March 3, 2023. Photography by Chen Xiangyun.

Imogen Binnie: I was desperate for anything I could use to figure out how to be trans, and there was so much on [the message board] and then LiveJournal. I first found your art on in the early 2000s. The way that you drew trans people was different from other portrayals I’d seen at the time, when there was so much trying to be invisible. Your art was a refutation of that. It was affectionate but also unafraid to be grotesque or hideous or beautiful. It was a little bit like being struck by lightning: “Someone out there is doing this thing that I don’t even know how to articulate that’s such a confrontation of all the things that feel impossible about being trans in 2003.”

Sybil Lamb: I was striving for realism. That’s the science of drawing: You need to learn all the anatomical bits and the structure of things. When I taught a drawing class a couple of years ago, I’d say that the body is basically a collection of different-size sausages arranged in different ways — all these weird bendy things. My work is about analysing transness, too. That’s what was exciting about “Nevada” [Binnie’s novel, which was rereleased in 2022] — when it came out in 2013, nobody had ever gone inside a trans person’s mind like that. All the dissociating and looking for yourself everywhere. There wasn’t a trans identity yet. There were tropes of ourselves, but we weren’t actually the ugly cross-dresser, the murdered prostitute.

I.B.: It was like, “Give me anything,” right? When I met you in person, it was at the trans health conference [now known as the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference] in 2004. I felt like a dumb baby because you seemed so cool. But then we were hanging out and I was watching you draw. I remember being fascinated: You were such a dirtbag, but you had this really nice drawing paper. The texture was perfect, and your pencil was very sharp. I appreciated you being your weird self. It gave me permission to be a weirdo, too.

S.L.: Oh, I love you, darling. I remember you at the conference, in the front row. And I was like, “Her. This is one to watch.”

I.B.: I had never been in a room full of queer weirdos before, and I was like, “Oh my God, I found my people.” I always thought that after “Nevada” was published, people would forget about it, and then maybe someone would discover it and have their minds blown the way mine was when I read Kathy Acker or Dennis Cooper. Instead, it’s grown into so much more than I could have anticipated, which is rad but very surreal. I almost don’t know how to engage with it. Still, every time a trans girl is like, “This blew me wide open and changed everything in a positive way,” I can’t believe I got to do that. The rest is just bonus stuff.

Laurie Simmons and Lena Dunham Argue About Earrings, Not Art

For mother and daughter, their relationship has been one of mutual — but not stifling — dependence.

Article by Kate Guadagnino

Mothers and Daughters_Lena DunhamFrom left: Lena Dunham, 36, writer, director and actor, “Girls” (2012-17), and Laurie Simmons, 73, photographer and filmmaker, photographed at Simmons’s studio in Cornwall, Conn., on Nov. 25, 2022. Photography by Chase Middleton

Laurie Simmons: My father was a first-generation American small-town dentist on Long Island with an office off our kitchen and a darkroom in the basement; I’d sit at his feet as he developed his dental X-rays. I see his work ethic in you — you’re relentless in your desire to keep making things — but I’d like to think that came from me, too.

Lena Dunham: Well, it did. I’ve seen you go into your studio and come out 12 hours later in the same outfit looking confused, like you don’t know when you went in. Growing up, I spent a lot of time in that space. My favourite thing to do was to look through the loupe at slides on the light box. And then you’d take the red pen and X out the ones that weren’t good.

L.S.: I can’t believe you remember that. 

L.D.: Sometimes I’d set up my own little things next to yours. I realised very quickly that there was just a feeling I got when I made things. Some of it was the joy of creating, and some of it was the pleasure of connecting with you and Papa [the painter Carroll Dunham]. I’d take pictures on a disposable waterproof camera and show them to you or write a short story and read it to him. The real breakthrough was when I realised that filmmaking allowed a person to be a writer who also told stories in pictures, and your aesthetic totally formed the way I do that. 

L.S.: For me, so much of my becoming an artist was a rebellion against my background and what was expected of me, particularly as a woman. I was curious about what would happen to you since you didn’t have that resistance within your family. I didn’t understand that there was going to be a worldwide internet that would provide a million admonishing mothers.

L.D.: I was rebelling against Grandma, too, though. Her preconceived notions about what being female looked like were massive enough to engulf us all. 

L.S.: Your biggest influence on my work has been in giving me permission to tell a story. When I came of age, the art world was focused on lofty conceptual ideas, not narrative. You’ve also taught me not to sweat the small stuff. I feel like I had to fight so hard when I was younger, and I was so angry. You’ve helped me let that go to a degree. 

L.D.: But I also understand that there are days when you have to be in fighting mode, and I’ve learned that from you.

L.S.: I also learned a lot from watching you on the set of [Dunham’s debut feature film] “Tiny Furniture” (2010), which felt like a secret collaboration because it had a small crew and I had a lot of little jobs. Later, when I was making my second film [“My Art,” 2016] and felt unsettled, I’d excuse myself and call you. I thought, “If the rest of the crew knew I was rushing out to call this kid. . . .”

L.D.: That makes me so happy because I was a late bloomer and spent a long time relying on you, and sometimes still do. You’re just the best person to ask for advice, and when it comes to the artistic stuff, we don’t argue. It’ll be an argument later about whether I —

L.S.: Returned my earrings. That’s the level: “You borrowed my sweater without asking.” 

What Laura Dern and Diane Ladd Have Learned From Each Other

Ladd wasn’t sure she wanted her daughter to act. But Dern grew up going to work with her mother — and soon they were sharing the screen.

Article by Kate Guadagnino

Mothers and Daughters_Laura DernFrom left: Diane Ladd, 87, actress, “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” (1974), (with her dog Roo) and Laura Dern, 56, actress, “Marriage Story” (2019), photographed at Ladd’s home in Woodland Hills, Calif., on Feb. 13, 2023. Photograph by Tierney Gearon

Laura Dern: The great news about the endless challenges you had raising me as a single parent is that, when you brought me with you on location, I got an up-close view of what it really means to be an actor. 

Diane Ladd: When I was doing “A Texas Trilogy” at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in 1976, you were 8 and sat with me during rehearsal. At one point the play’s director said, “Diane, you didn’t move there.” I said, “I know where I moved,” and you said, “No, Mother, he’s right.” You were really paying attention. I didn’t want you to go into acting. It’s a hard business for anyone but, as a woman, they really judge you, and for a lot more than the work. I said, “Laura, be a lawyer. Nobody cares if your backside’s too big when you’re a lawyer.” 

L.D.: Well, women have been traumatised in many industries, but I’m now in your position, with kids who want to be artists, and I understand why you were protective. 

D.L.: Marlon Brando didn’t want his kids to act, either. He was vehement. I had a fight with him about it. I said, “If the universe gives a child a gift, you have to encourage it.” I knew you had the gift when I went to a screening of [Dern’s 1980 film] “Foxes.” You didn’t have much to do, but my heart just gasped, like when someone opens a little box and there’s this gorgeous diamond inside. 

L.D.: OK, OK. The thing that inspires me most about your career is that it’s ever-surprising. Around the time we did “Rambling Rose” (1991), where you played the archetype of maternal love, we also worked together in “Wild at Heart” (1990), with you as the Wicked Witch of the East, West, North and South. On a scene level, too, I watched the boldness of your choices. Even if it doesn’t make it into the movie, a particular choice might inform another take that does. I can be concerned about whether something I said at a party came out the wrong way but, thanks to you, when I’m on a set, I don’t care because I know it’s a process to get to the truth of a thing. 

D.L.: If you want to be great, it means taking good and lighting a fire of truth and risk and belief under it. You were always willing to do that. 

L.D.: Do you remember filming that scene in “Enlightened” (2011-13) when I’m deciding between two relationships and [the director] Todd Haynes set up the camera so that we could be truly alone? We were playing the most opposite characters from who we are, and yet it was deeply vulnerable and we knew exactly what we were really saying
to each other. 

D.L.: That’s right. Years later, I ended up in the hospital and we started taking these walks to strengthen my lungs. You got me to walk and talk, and that’s when we went beyond intuition and voiced everything. If one person reads our book [“Honey, Baby, Mine,” a new collection of conversations between Ladd and Dern] and does the same — really talks
to someone they love — writing it won’t have been in vain. Aside
from that, all I can offer is a reflection of life itself. Art is just a mirror, and that’s why we go see movies: to learn who we are. 

How a ‘Succession’ Actress’s Daughters Joined the Family Business

In the first film Mouna and Lina Soualem made with their mother, Hiam Abbass, personal attachments went out the window: “There’s no time for that.”

Article by Interview by Chloë Ashby

Mothers and Daughters_Hiam AbassFrom left: Mouna Soualem, 29, actress, “The Night of the 12th” (2022); Hiam Abbass, 62, actress, “Succession" (2018-23), and filmmaker; and Lina Soualem, 33, actress and filmmaker, “Their Algeria” (2020), photographed at Studio Daguerre in Montparnasse, Paris, on Feb. 24, 2023. Photography by Betina du Toit.

Hiam Abbass: I see you both as a continuation of my path, in a way. But I didn’t plan it. As a mother, I just wanted you to do what you wanted to do.

Lina Soualem: Mouna, you always knew you would be an actress. I felt that because both our parents [their father is the French Algerian actor Zinedine Soualem] acted, I would never be as good as them, so I started working in journalism first. I think I had to go through that to find my voice.

Mouna Soualem: I love your discipline and commitment [as a filmmaker], Lina. You don’t let go when you want something. It’s different being an actor, when so much is out of your control and sometimes you must let go or you’ll go crazy.

H.A.: We can also let go in order to be somebody else. The first time the three of us collaborated, for my film “Inheritance” (2012), I was playing a mother, and you two were playing my daughters. When we’re on set, though, I don’t relate to you both as my daughters, just as you don’t relate to me as your mom. There’s no time for that.

M.S.: It can be challenging. There was that scene where you had to slap me, Mom. You’d never slapped me in my life, and when you did it, I cried. I was just so surprised.

H.A.: And of course, we have disputes like everybody else.

L.S.: We argue more about day-to-day things than professional things; for example, if one of us isn’t helping enough with making lunch.

H.A.: Because we’re a trio, if one of the three of us is ever in distress, the other two try to join forces and help them. 

L.S.: Like when, Mouna, you were going through the long audition process for “Oussekine” [the 2022 French series about the 22-year-old student Malik Oussekine, who died in 1986 after being beaten by police] — it was tough because I was already working on the series in the writers’ room and, Mom, you were confirmed as an actress.

M.S.: I felt very pressured by everybody’s expectations. So we had a conversation at some point, and I just said, “Let’s lower the pressure.” We gave each other space, and two months later, the three of us were working together on the show.

L.S.: Family is the best thing and the most difficult thing. We’re lucky that we’re able to open ourselves up artistically together. And I think that within the industry, as women, we’re now more conscious of our power when we come together and communicate.

M.S.: That’s partly why the documentary films you’re bringing into the world, Lina, are so necessary.

L.S.: The latest, “Bye Bye Tiberias,” which is expected for release this year, is about our Palestinian family. I filmed you [Hiam], your seven sisters and our grandmother. It’s about the transmission of our story through powerful relationships between women.

H.A.: I was terrified. It’s easier for me to play a part than to be shown as myself, but you were patient with me.