The family album: An exploration into the connection between the family photograph, (the event) and memory recollection.

The following images are a selection taken from a wider body of work and were submission for the qualification of MA by Research in Contemporary Fine Art Practice at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) in 2012.

Each section deals with a subsection of the body of work. The question was to explore if there is a place of the Family Album in contemporary society. To see the final body of work click the following link (pdf).

Original Photographs

The original outline of this research was to investigate social memory, focusing on cultural memory; exploring the notion that photographs are an aide in the recollection of key moments in our past, related to the images displayed in the family album. Also to address questions relating to the photographs we take and how we use and interact with them as documents. In addition it was to challenge the indexical nature of the photograph within the context of the family snap.

Exhibition and Storage

Susan Sontag suggests that the reason we collect photographs “is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store,” therefore, "cameras go with family life” and the photographs we take document a personal journey through life while conforming to social habits of family interaction.

Is how we store and exhibit photographs a reflection of how we interact with them and does it mean we care more for our family and friends by keeping images of our loved ones close at hand?

Faking the Past

Throughout history artists have often used antiquities as a source of influence or as source material. Faking the past is an investigation into the differed fascination for producing images that are faded, fuzzy or that mimic or captures the aesthetics of dead media or out dated formats.

Expedition and the Trophy Photograph

At any family event there will be at least one member of the assembled group, be it family member or friend who is the budding photographer keen to capture the event as Charlotte Cotton states in her book The Photograph as Contemporary Fine Art, “aspiring to produce photography that is above the ordinary” however, “...most family photographs are not particularly distinguished on the level of technical skill or approach.” Amateurs often capture the moment without understanding the intricacies of apertures, shutter speeds or film speed. The evidence is clear that the photographer shot with intent, regardless of: “familiar ‘mistakes’. Out-of-kilter framing, blur, uneven flashlight, the colouration of the machine-printed snap... what is important is the presence of loved ones at a significant event or moment that prompted the taking of the image.” These photographs are more than visual proof that we exist and are a boast, shouting we came, we saw, we conquered.

The Unheimliche (Homely)

I am using the term unheimliche, which Freud suggests is a place or object that is unhomely, but was once familiar and now uncomfortably strange. This is the culmination of my investigations into how photographs aid the recollection of memory and was initially an extension of the trophy photograph inquiry, exploring how we view the familiar or homely (heimliche). As one of my interviewees stated, when challenged about his memories relating to a photograph taken of him in 1980, “I don’t remember the photograph being taken at all...” he also stated that he remembered the location depicted and the actual photograph, commenting that “it had always been around”, but he had no recollection of the event or the reason it was taken. As Eakins suggests “how much of what autobiographers say they experience is equivalent to what they really experience, and how much of it is merely what they really experience, and how much of it is merely what they know how to say?”

Trying to find Beach Road

This film was shot in the summer of 2012, taking inspiration from Tacita Dean’s Trying to find the Spiral Jetty.

This film aims to document the search for a past event in my life at an unknown location in 1979 or 1980, somewhere in Brittany, France. The challenge was in reaction to Freud's Unheimliche (unhomely) Concept.

The images document the journey by car from the ferry to the beach road; the sound is a simulated car-radio and is a list of the songs played (in order). The equipment used (iPhone) reflects the technology available to the family in the 2010s.

Who do I think I am?

The continuation and the now.

From the idea of building a collection of images from memory, this project looks at images of me as an adult, exploring my heritage. I used to find it weird that people would say I looked like my mum. My Mum is female, what an odd thing to say... 

As I get older I can see that I am becoming more and more like my parents. I have a collection of images of my family that I never met. My Dad's parents died in the early 1970s and my Mum's parents passed away in the early 1980s. 

Synopsis of the Family Album Project

Photographs play an important role at times of celebration, grief or remembrance, holding signifiers to unlock a past time or event; as Gillian Rose states, “a textual archive, or as an ideology ...that is, as a social practice.” So why does social convention dictate that we collect formulaic images “from the ‘little’ moments and events of the private and the everyday to those ‘grander’ moments and events of formalised and public occasions.” (Joan Gibbons) The intention of this research is to explore the subject of the family album focusing on the family snap; is it historical fact or an edited pseudo reality? The investigations undertaken into the ritual of photographing family gatherings and events is based on my personal experiences (memory) and photographs taken in the first seven years of my life. I endeavour to discover if the photograph is an accurate description of the event, if it is a tool to recall memory, or is it that photographs merely beguile memory?

Photographs are part of our lives and as such, since the introduction of affordable and less-cumbersome equipment, at the centre of any family gathering. At these functions will be the budding photographer capturing the moment intensely and from all angles. Photography does not stand still and is ever evolving, cameras and storage formats change as do the tastes and fashion of the subjects within the frame, but what the photograph presents is indisputable evidence that an event took place.

The research enquires whether the family album has a place in the twenty-first century and if so in what form it takes. Photography is evident everywhere, technology is constantly developing and since its discovery in the nineteenth century has become more accessible. As more photographs are taken has this changed the habits in which we record our existence, or is it simply that many more photographs of the same subject matter are being taken? Ultimately are photographs still important in a world where so many outlets are available to record our lives?

This project stems from a handful of photographs taken in my first seven years of childhood (1976 – 1983); the included research is used to discuss the photographs as artefacts and discover the intrinsic value, information or zeitgeist they hold. The first seven years of childhood have been specified in reaction to the phenomenon of infantile amnesia. This refers to the time when, as adults, we are unable to recall very early memories. The reason is because during early infancy the brain is only beginning to develop memory and communication skills. Sigmund Freud states that it is at this time we develop our character and sexual appetite. Within this research the characteristic of infantile amnesia discussed, is in relation to remembering family events.  The overarching question covering the different avenues of investigation is: The family album: An exploration into the connection between the family photograph, (the event) and memory recollection. Is the family album an indexical journal of family history or simply an edited reality?

Methodologies implemented within this research include; referencing family archives, shooting new photographs and moving image using a range of formats to reflect how we took photographs in the 1970s and 1980s and how photographs are shot today (2012). This work has been underpinned by extensive contextual research into other artists’ who also work with the family album along with interviews from participants. Through a wide and varied range of inquiries the work culminated in a road trip in France to attempt to recover the unheimliche i.e. the testing of the opposite of what is familiar.

Using Format