The more specific it is the more general it’ll be.
— Lisette Model
The Birthday Club began as a casual hey…let’s get together, look at work, it’s a birthday, no presents, Ann would rather have prints from our then current projects. I didn’t know the celebrant well and was surprised to be invited. Then more surprised when I felt an immediate new connection with this group, beyond our collective survival of the Yale grad school experience.

At lunch, we were brave and vulnerable and asked, is my work, this photograph, any good? is it great? These earnest urgent questions were considered carefully and answered truthfully. To talk this way is an unqualified good from which other good grows.

We six continue to speak the same lingo and I anticipate each birthday, even mine, with childlike enthusiasm. Another surprise.
— Jennette Williams
As wave is driven by wave
And each, pursued, pursues the wave ahead,
So time flies on and follows, flies, and follows,
Always, for ever and new. What was before
Is left behind; what never was is now;
And every passing moment is renewed.
— Ovid, Metamorphosis

Since meeting at the Yale MFA program in the late 1980’s, Marion Belanger, Mary Berridge, Ann Burke Daly, Laura Letinsky, Tanya Marcuse, and Jennette Williams have been meeting to discuss work in progress and to celebrate milestones.  By 1995 we formalized these gatherings around our five-year birthdays, and a tradition arose of giving photographs from current work as birthday presents.  These gatherings have sustained us as artists and have held the group together, tightly bonded, for twenty-five years and over 125 photographic gifts. Giving and receiving photographs is a reminder of how art and friendship endure, as we grow older. Our gifts to each other create a visual record of our bond and our story. They trace the arc of each artist’s work over the course of a career; yet at the same time they tell a larger tale of the evolution of the medium. During the quarter-century span of our group, from the late 1980’s to the present, photography rose to a dominant position in the art world, while shifting from analogue to digital, from a basis in fact to assumed fictionality, from object to Instagram.  

Our project is about feminism, friendship, the Yale School of Art, photography, and at the deepest level about transience. Perhaps we were all drawn to photography for the way it wrestles with time and impermanence. While the theme of transience touches all of our work, it has also moved from background to foreground, from concept to reality when tragically, in 2015, Jennette received a terminal prognosis; she passed away on April 9.  This book is both a celebration of, and memorial to, a group that will never again be as it has been.

One possible structure for the book is a sequence of selections of the gifts (perhaps 8 per artist), intermingling our photographs non-chronologically, creating conversations between images for the viewer, in a way that mirrors our dialogue.  An index, including thumbnails, can group each photographer’s work to provide an experience of our individual trajectories. We envision a forward by the acclaimed writer Daniel Mendelsohn, and a longer essay by Laura Wexler.