Family Albums: A Practical Analysis

1347 words - 5 pages

Since their inception in the 1860s, family albums have played an important role as the promoters of familial ideology and treasures of familial memory. ‘Most family photograph albums in containing a great variety of items, both identified and unidentified, from different periods and of varying quality,’ held together by their collective identity with the family (Schoeman, 1996: 8). The function of familial photography is to ‘fix perception and memory, represent a method of preserving memories, document important moments and confirm social relationships and fact of belonging’ (Tobiassen, 1990). When photographs are stored in albums the process ‘resembles the writing of family history’ (Tobiassen, 1990), and are thus a resource constituting an important mnemonic aid in the construction of a family narrative, although Tobiassen omits any thought that the photograph album is probably the closest that most families will ever approach to narrativising and transmitting their individual and collective familial experiences for later generations. Early portrait photographers stressed the importance of the photograph as a moral stabilizer for families and the social fabric, "… family photographs sustained sentimental ties in a nation of migrants." (Alan Sekula, 1986) These sentimental ties, especially those produced by viewing photographs of deceased loved ones, enabled families to document their lives as they happened, and to remember those who had predeceased them, thus forming a seemingly cohesive "history" on which to build a nation. Therefore, family photographs can be considered cultural artifacts since they document the events that shape families' lives and so the recording of family history becomes an important endeavor. In many cases, photographs are the only biographical material people leave behind after they die (Boerdam, Martinius, 1980). However, the impact of family photo albums extends beyond merely recording history. Interpretation of family structures, relationships and self is possible through viewing family photographs.

Interpretation of meaning behind photographs assumes that they are a means of communication (Entin, 1979). Much like family storytelling, photographs indicate relationships within and among the family. The family photo album is indeed an easy way to initiate outsiders to family history (Boerdam, Martinius, 1980). Photographs pose as good conversation starters allowing potential family members, such as future daughter/son-in-laws, to be introduced to family customs and traditions.

An important factor to keep in mind when interpreting photographs is the fact that they are produced by choice. Choices about who, what, when and where to photograph can reflect much about the photographer as the subject. The camera records not only an event but also what the photographer chooses to see. Photographs display one’s view of the world. They are a reflection and definition of self. If that person has a happy...

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