The Family Album. Whose memory will prevail?

Do families use cameras as a medium to portray cohesion - sacrificing veracity to ideology? My family photographs revealed dads’ dominance.

 

This project also derived from my dissertation theme, ‘family photography as ideology’. Ideology attempts to justify aspects of perceived reality, providing people with ‘rules of practical conduct and moral behaviour’ (Barker, 2008, p.66); I believe that at some point every family has used the camera as a medium to portray ideal family cohesion, whether inadvertently or not, sacrificing veracity to ideology. Families are essentially in the process of ‘making themselves’; every child’s life begins as somebody else’s ‘project’; they are ‘offered a memory’ of themselves constructed entirely by others. My aim was to explore this theme further and develop a physical response to my contextual findings.

Many artists from my research have stimulated my approach; Jo Spence’s ‘Beyond the family album’ was particularly inspiring. With the aim of identifying the process by which she had been ‘put together’, Spence decided to deconstruct herself visually, recreating a baby photo with herself in the present day. I was keen to deconstruct my own childhood to see whether my family also adhered to ideological standards and so I selected a number of photographs from me and my sisters childhoods and asked each family member separately – whether they were present in the photo or not - to speak about their memories. I devised a number of questions to help prompt their thoughts. A key subject that kept arising was that my dad had positioned/influenced the shots; even photographs that for years I had deemed to be natural, shared amongst relatives, framed and cherished - were revealing aspects of staging. The account of Annette Kuhn also encouraged my project and on discovering that one photograph can indeed trigger multiple interpretations, memories, senses and feelings reaching far beyond the scope of the picture itself, I decided to name my project, ‘Whose memory is to prevail in the family album?’

Within my dissertation, I compared the modes of photographic dissemination; many people deem social networking sites to be the chief location for inflated identities; we have the capability to upload millions of happy photographs deemed ‘fun’ enough to share, creating everyday public performances; so much so that ‘taking and uploading photographs feels like a requirement’ (Turkle, 2011, p.304). But in actual fact from as early as the 1840’s, families have been striving to create ‘ideal’ photographs; they would arrive primed in their best clothing, to be positioned accordingly in furnished studios, together with various staged backdrops and props. With the further advancement of the Kodak in 1889, families were finally enabled to create their own family albums. As my dad displayed the photographs that he had captured in physical albums, I have continued to use that form of dissemination for my final piece. I created a large-scale wall installation, consisting of the 22 handmade albums. Contained in each, are series of repeated photographs, with handwritten captions by each member of my family.

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Although my dad is missing from the physical frame of most photographs - due to being the photographer – I still feel that his presence is recognised through his aesthetic choices and arrangements and so I thought that it would be interesting to emphasise his overshadowing by projecting a drawing over the expanse of wall of open albums. The projection displays my dad positioned behind a lens, drawing particular attention to his eyes and hands – the assets that allowed him to carefully compose, adjust and arrange our childhoods.

 

I feel that using the traditional book form gives my work a sense of nostalgia and narrative structure; as each page is turned the drawing will follow you. Allowing the pages to yawn open and interrelate with each other also helps the emphasis on the conflicting memories.

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