Visual Kinship: Photography and the Idea of Family
Family photography is often understood simply as snapshots of domestic scenes taken by amateur photographers that project a normalized picture of families. Yet, family photographs are more complex than we think: they can also include images taken by a wide spectrum of producers, including the press and the state; they frequently circulate between private and public spheres, linking personal memories with national and even global histories; and, just as importantly, they don’t just illustrate families, but shape the very idea of family, as a racialized and gendered social structure. This course explores the relationship between family photography and the concept of family, from the age of analog to the digital era, from snapshots to portraits, to instrumental images to art exhibitions, and beyond. What are some of the visual conventions of family photographs and how might these conventionsentrench assumptions about gender and racial hierarchies? To what extent have these conventions been subverted and politicized? What challenges do orphan images (i.e. photographs that have lost their histories) pose for analysis, and how might we interpret them in the absence of contextual information? What genres do family photographs overlap with, and what is the significance of this overlap? To address these questions, we will look closely at a wide range of family photographs held in special collections at the Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the Museum of Modern Art, and the National Archive and Records Administration, among other sites. We will consider the significance of these family photographs in shaping how we see, define, and politicize families, by engaging critically with select writings from photography studies and cultural history.