Our Dollhouse

I have been photographing my younger sister Masantu for over ten years. I started taking it more seriously when she expressed to me her disappointment over not having any photographs of herself as a baby, from the time before our family adopted her. Our photography projects can be seen as photo-therapy, because the act of photographing helps build her self-confidence, untangle her identity as a young black girl in our German-American family, and battle any insecurities she, like many other adolescents, may have about her appearance. This series in particular deals with the adverse and borderline racist reactions my parents received from our extended family in Germany when she was first adopted and her need to remember what little knowledge she has about her biological family.

Here she peers into a dollhouse that was first constructed by our great-great-grandparents, continued by our grandparents, and finished by our father. Masantu and I furnished the dollhouse together with items that have been passed down through our family’s generations, including a clock handmade by my great-grandmother. This act symbolizes the legitimacy of her claim to my family’s generational memory, despite possible objections from ignorant relatives. In fact, my great-grandmother, who never had the chance to meet my sister, also adopted a child who was orphaned during World War II.

The way my sister interacts with the dollhouse mimics occurrences of situational feelings of outsideness. An example of which being when my mother and I converse in Schwäbisch, the dialect of German that we speak, around her. This work felt important to make because my relationship with my sister is often thrown into question, largely by strangers in public, who try to decode how we fit together. Photography allows me to express the responsibility I feel to emotionally support Masantu through any challenges she may face as a result of growing up in a white family, especially as the United States continues to be divided along racial lines. The audience for this work is anyone who has ever felt out of place although they belong. I expect that racial relations will come to be less foregrounded than they are now, as the love I have for my sister becomes more common.


Francesca Hummler was born in 1997 and is a photographer based in San Diego, California. She received her B.A. in Media Arts from the University of California in San Diego in 2019 and is currently a Photography Masters candidate at The Royal College of Art in London, England.

Interested in issues regarding identity, she draws from her personal experiences to engage in photo-therapy through portraiture. She believes that taking pictures is a therapeutic act and that the camera reveals to us what we would not otherwise see. In this way, Francesca's portraiture explores intimacy and the trauma of not belonging.

Her work has been exhibited at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, Art Hub Studios, and at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.