The Rise and Rise of Family Photographs by Michael Hewitt – The Guardian

When reading this article the first thing that struck me was the idea of what makes family images so interesting? What makes them worth while keeping? It mentions famous photographers and says that their historic photographs which document wars and great leader are important but what makes family photos so important?

The progression of the family album has come gone from pasting images into hardback photographic albums to creating digital photo albums that we can upload online or print off in a made photo album using the many companies that offer the service. We then trust our family photographs will be safe on our digital devices but then what if something goes wrong? What if our back up fails? What if we lose everything? I feel like because photographs are so easy to take now that we don’t really put any value into them, we don’t neccessarily print them off and stick them in an album but instead keep them on our hidedrives or put them on facebook. However, in the past people had to print the images out to see them, they were a physical thing, they meant something more.

The photograph was originally restricted to the rich due to the expensive photographic sessions and process that meant that photographs and the family album were rare. As time went on working class people began to get photographs taken no matter what the cost was. I think that this would be because they wanted to document their loved ones so that when they passed away they would have a piece of evidence of what they looked like. However, since the progression of photography the photograph, and therefore the album, has become extremely popular.

There was a lot of symbolism in early photography in the sense that people could make themselves seem to be a higher status than they were. For instance, immigrants would dress up in their best clothes or borrowed clothes and send photographs back to their families in their country of origin to show them that they are doing well even if they aren’t. The photograph, and especially the photo album, was seen as something that meant more wealth and would give you a seemingly higher status because photographs cost so much to create. Photographs of children became more popular as photography developed not only because of the fact that it enabled them to have a nice happy picture of the family but it also enabled them to have a photographic memory of them at a time when child mortality was at an all time high and preserved their memory for all time should something tragic happen. This quite morbid but realistic purpose behind photographs is something that basically explains why we take photographs in its rawest, simplest forms; for evidence.

People can now carry cameras with them at all times, whether it is on their phones, tablets or actual cameras, we always have some form of image making device with us. This has caused a massive increase in the amount of photographs that we take and I feel that this has made photographs lose their value slightly because if you can retake the image 10 times in one minute then people don’t really think about what they photograph. This is why that I think that the family album, especially older ones, are important because the people in the images are not neccessarily around anymore and we cannot just retake the images so it adds to their meaning. However, I need to be careful not to romanticise the family album because that could make for a biased or un-objective argument to do with my own family album. Although most people see the album as something that is nostalgic, I need to be careful as an artist to not get caught up in this because it could make the piece something that is insular.

People hold onto family photographs because they are sentimental but also because it is impossible to know exactly which ones to throw out and which ones to keep because what means nothing to one person could mean everything to someone else. There is also a risk of losing or forgetting the memories oe the stories that the photographs hold. For example, if my mother and her siblings had thrown out the family albums after my grandparents had passed away, then I would have never known what my great grandmother looked like or that when my nan was a child she looked exactly like my mother as a child. These pieces of information are. The article states that without a story or some context family photographs can be meaningless and essentially worthless in the eyes of anybody outside of that family. Technically this is true but then again what is the difference between family photographs and conceptual photography? It is just that, it the purpose of the of the image and the reason that it was taken that makes something important or stops it from being important. For example, war photographs are taken to document war and fashion images are shot with a concept with the purpose of advertising the clothes to eventually sell them to consumers. However, family photographs are essentially taken for the family and not really for others. I do think that there is something in the family album because of what we choose to photograph. You would not photograph your family having an argument or just sitting on the sofa eating their dinner; you construct and curate what you photograph so that it portrays a positive message about your family. For example, I have family photographs of my mother, her 5 siblings and my grandparents all smiling and standing together but that does not mean that we all get along and spend much time together. Photographs can be deceiving but only if we construct them to be so. We do not want to see or put out negativity, especially not in our family photos, because there is a need to keep up appearances at all times and this is something that I have seen more and more when looking through family photographs on search engines and social media sites.

I think that this article has not only allowed me to gain a better understanding of the history of the family album but it has also allowed me to think about how it has progressed over time and how we have technically made our own versions of the tradition with the new technologies available to us today.


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