Seminar – Family photographs

Seminar question:
Domestic photography has an apparent similarity because most families aspire to present themselves as ‘ideal’. Discuss

Seminar exercise:
One photograph (a physical print) that says something significant to you about your family, and be prepared to speak about the image for 1-2 minutes

Further things to consider:

‘Now, more than one hundred years later, photography’s social functions are integrally tied to the ideology of the modern family. The family photo both displays the cohesion of the family and is an instrument of its togetherness; it both chronicles family rituals and constitutes a prime objective of those rituals.’
– Marianne Hirsch

Marianne Hirsch, in her essay about Roland Barthe’s Winter Garden photograph, proposes that we should think of the family album as essentially concerned with the promulgation of a visual myth whose function is to promote an idealised view of family life. Many other writers, sociologists and photographers including Jo Spence, Rosy Martin, Chris Jenks and Val Williams have focused their theoretical gaze on the ideology of kinship and family.

Whilst undertaking the reading please consider: What is a family album and what purpose does it fulfill? How do the images reflect the interconnections of family life and to what extent do they constitute an ‘archive’?


My images –


I chose these images to take to the seminar – these are three consecutive images of me as a child, each year in the run up to the festive period my mum would make me a new dress and have a portrait of me taken professionally, these were all on display until recently.

In relation to the seminar I selected these to show as I was interested in the idea of the perfect family and the way people select images to represent their family life. In this instance my mum wanted to show me well groomed and always in my best clothes looking ‘perfect’ – She hand made and mounted the prints which is an added personal touch.

I thought it was interesting that in two of these images I have a broken leg yet she chose not to reveal this.

In the seminar we discussed the text and our opinions, which I had a lot of. Some key statements in the text;

“Photography…. primary instrument of self-knowledge and representation – the means by which family memory would be continued and perpetuated, by which the family’s story would henceforth be told.”

This as with other parts which stood out to me deal with this idea of the family album being a tool for story telling and representation for future generations and outsiders. As with my images I find it interesting how this representation is rarely a 100% accurate one, instead a fabrication, a selected moment which portrays the family as it is believed it is wanted to be seen.

“transcription of the real.” Again, an interesting thought, family albums only ever showcase events and moments of happiness and success, kids are always clean and tidy in their best clothes or really enjoying some activity worthy of an outside audiences gaze. Holidays are always shown to be the prefect vacation, the weather, food, hotel ect is great and the journey was all smooth sailing. Is this attempt to construct a collection of happy moments an attempt to aid memory of good times? How much of our memory is informed by true memories and how much is constructed with the aid of photographs and stories? Is this to attempt to ensure that memories mainly consist of happiness associated with growing up and shared experiences with the family?

In the seminar we also spoke about new modes for family albums in the digital age where often albums are left in digital form and risk being lost. Martin Parr said “We are in danger of having a whole generation – and this will continue into the future – that has no family albums, because people just leave them on their computer, and then suddenly they will be deleted. You have to print them and put them in an album or a box, otherwise they could be lost. And write captions. You might think you are going to remember what is happening in a picture, but you probably won’t in 10 years’ time.”

“Most family photo albums are a form of propaganda, where the family looks perfect and everyone is smiling: we try to create fabrications about who we are.”

We also discussed how the need for physical prints around the house is something very much associated with age today. Ideas discussed by Sontag.

I found this seminar really interesting and had a lot of opinions which I voiced, I could go on and on discussing this text, especially as my dissertation is interested in the idea of family, albeit a different angle – looking at the visual hierarchy in family portraits and how this has altered and could be much harder to represent in the 21st centrality due to many changes such as an increase in divorce and single parent families, same sex families, more women now work and in many cases rival the breadwinner status of the father. Multiple generations living together, people living single with friends and work colleagues ect.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s