I must have been ten or eleven years old when I first ran across the peculiar envelope that bore my grandmother’s shaky handwriting: “Not to be opened until my death.” Tucked in her top dresser drawer amidst other valuables, its striking phrase burned into my memory at a young age. I don’t know exactly when, and I don’t know how often, but I know I visited the envelope numerous times, pondering what could be inside. What could be so important (or tragic) that it had to be kept secret in this way?

[We caught up with Kurt Simonson at our exhibition of the 2015 Emerging Talents. Hear Kurt tell us more about the story behind his work.]

I have never been able to shake the hold that piece of paper had over me. More than just a letter—I was haunted by what it represented. Loaded with latent meaning, yet withholding its story, the letter is my experience of growing up in Minnesota.

This project is a journey to piece together a disconnected family narrative that is marked by secrets, weathered by seasons, colored with dark humor, and haunted by death. The work forms a lyrical and strange family album, a collection of photographs that speak to the merger of myth and memory that only grows more complex as time passes.

—Kurt Simonson

Kurt Simonson is one of the 50 best emerging photographers for 2015, as voted by the eight-member international jury for the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2015. Here is his winning entry and artist’s statement. View his profile to learn more about him and to see more of his great work.