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Family: Photographers Photograph Their Families

Published in 2005; Essay by Henri Peretz, Notes on the photographs by Margaret Walters; Phaidon Press (Publisher);

The following review first appeared in Issue 2, 2005 of The Picture Professional, the quarterly magazine of the American Society of Picture Professionals, www.aspp.com. ASPP is a community of image experts committed to sharing our experience and knowledge throughout the industry.

Review by Steven Diamond / ASPP:

For most people, family is something that conjures deep, intense and complex feelings. The photography of one?s own family has been a recurring subject since the beginnings of the medium. In photography?s earlier years, because of its technical rigor, the photograph was the domain of the professional, but in 1885, with the invention of roll film and the Kodak camera, photography became accessible to a much wider public.

With the amateur photographer came a new informality?a kind of social celebration with the spontaneity and immediacy that studio photography could not approach. For the legions of amateurs, the desire has been to commemorate and celebrate. As one of those amateurs, I have always tried to find the right balance between a photograph that is interesting to my family and one that is interesting as an image. Like myself, I think many photographers are looking for the moment that transcends a simple snapshot and becomes art.

In his economical and well constructed essay, Henri Peretz discusses first the history and genres of family photography, then moves on to the distinctions between the work of the amateur and the intentionality of the professional. In considering the differences between the intimacy of a family narrative and the use of family members as subject in an aesthetic dialogue, Peretz helps illuminate differing motivations for each of these pursuits and places them in both an historical and sociological context. In discussing the impulses to photograph one?s family, Peretz emphasizes the attachment to people and not ritualized moments. The photographer seizes indifferent moments, paying little mind to the calendar of family celebrations.

Even as the traditional family unit has continued to evolve, we see continuity in the impulse behind the family photograph. It is affective ties over traditional family structure that photographers continue to investigate. As photography of the family in the outside world shows us lives touched by evil and sadness, it is rare to find such depictions of one?s immediate family. Whether there is no public taste for such subjects or a sense of propriety about private unhappiness, it is only with the passage of time that these photographs can tell their whole story.

This moving collection of the work of over 50 photographers, who find their subjects in their immediate families, has been presented as an exhibition. The works are not shown chronologically, but rather in a kind of narrative, with thoughtful juxtapositions of single images. Generous notes on the photographs are not only biographical, but also contextual, giving real insight into the works themselves, as well as the mindset of the photographer. Having this inside view of the artists behind these moments helps us place the works presented within each photographer?s oeuvre. It can also provide some emotional grounding. Take for example Nobuyoshi Araki?s photographs of his wife Yoko. Knowing that she was suffering a long illness, and that he saw a specific photograph of her as showing ?her journey to death, to the other world,? the image takes on a far more powerful poignancy. But taken aesthetically, formally, sociologically or psychologically, there are many compelling images to look at.

As a collection of works, I found great breadth in the display of personal visions and voices and wonderful depth in the array of emotional connections with people, places and things. As a reference to my own journey to document my family, I think I may have gained some insights into my capacity to see those images that I create as both formal expressions and as intimate documents of times that deserve to be shared and remembered.


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