Appropriating Family Archives

Over the last couple of weeks I have been redesigning my book Unwelcome Invitation. The original book explored how the viewer and photographer alike intruded on a person’s environment. A conversation between space and possessions with dead pan portraits.

However, remastering the book’s design, I have effectively appropriated it with a new meaning, adding archive photographs from family albums. Now it explores the discussion of how photo albums are gateways to only part of our ancestors lives. They ignore the every day and only would choose to fix ‘happy significant memories’ into albums. Yet, all the images are similar: weddings, birthdays, holidays. There isn’t huge variation.

I coupled imagery of ‘present’ and ‘unnoticed’ parts of every day with archive pieces. The emphasis on empty spaces and gaps in time is echoed with the amount of ‘space’ and less archive. The viewer should not be too absorbed by the ‘vintage’ as the artefact but the statement of how we documented life on film.

A photo album would have more weight than just a family archive if it is paired with audio stories behind some of the images. In a couple of generations time, the images won’t mean a thing.

Would a page of photographs of somebody else’s ancestors make great art on their own? I don’t think so. I am going to email Charlotte Cory to see what her thoughts are on this debate.

3 thoughts on “Appropriating Family Archives

  1. Hi Kate, I have personally never seen family archive photographs as ‘great’ art. Not that I know what great art is by the way. And Yes, most of our family albums are full of the same old annual events, birthdays, Christenings, Christmas holidays, Summer hols and they like.

    Interesting we are all still doing this today but with ‘arms length selfies’, how many of us can honestly say we photograph the mundane in our family’s every day lives. If this is what interests you, do it. If nothing else, in years to come, it would be a wonderful record of how ‘WE’ once lived.

    Quite agree with the audio idea. I am so very pleased that I recorded my Grandparents voices 15 years ago. Grandpa died in 2003 and my Nan died last year. Both the photographs and their oral narrative bring a depth to our family’s history and more importantly are lovely memories for me when I miss them.

    I’m looking forward to seeing how your project evolves. ‘Family Archives’ are one of my photography passions.


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