This lecture was about photo albums, the evolution of technology and social media, and how these have affected each other.
In 1899 George Eastman published his hand-held Kodak with the slogan “You press the button, we’ll do the rest”. This enabled people to photograph their own subjects and exploit their lives through imagery, encouraging people to take photographs. It allowed a broader idea of who the photographer is and explored the idea that photography allowed memory to last forever .
A common photograph is the family photograph. These often include baby photos, weddings, holidays, birthdays, achievements and many other events that occur within family life. These are sometimes staged and sometimes natural, capturing when the subject doesn’t realise. They are ways of recording history and re-telling stories from the past. Wells said in 2004 that “the photographs we keep for ourselves are treasured less for their quality than for their context”, showing that we keep family photos for personal relation and memory. However, family photographs tend to raise questions like is what we see fact or fiction? How truthful are domestic photographs? And is the photograph a true representation of the identity of the sitter?
Liz Wells says “personal and family photographs are composed specifically to portray the individual or the family in a way they wish to be seen”. She also said “images feed our need for a clear sense of identity and of cultural belonging”. In 1995, Kuhn said “the family album is viewed as an important tool in the reconstruction of a personal history, searching among its cast of characters for meaning and explanations”.
Through the development of technology we have seen cameras become increasingly more technical and easier to use for amateurs. The use of automatic cameras has meant anyone can take an image that looks professional. Along with cameras, there has been a development in social media, with such sites as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and many more.
In January 2015, Facebook was the first social network to surpass 1 billion registered accounts. Twitter had over 284 million monthly active accounts. Meanwhile, blogging service Tumblr had more than 230 million active blog users on their site. In August 2015, it was said that over a billion people used Facebook on a single day. Having such a massive site to connect with friends and family has seen the rise in publication of family photos online instead of having a personal hard copy of a family album. This has introduced other sites such as Flickr which allows you to post purely just images online. These sites can be beneficial to photographers trying to make a name for themselves and spread their work, however where is the line? Should people broadcast their personal images online?
These social sites are often abused also. Things can be taken out of control. You can also lose control of your own information – once something is posted online it is there for everyone to see. Pictures in particular can be shared 1000’s of times and can then be targeted by spoofs and memes. However, there are times when social media can come in handy to help spread a message or get help from the public using photographs. This is when personal images may have a purpose for becoming public, for example, when someone goes missing or is wanted by authorities.
Family albums are suggested to be hard copies for personal use. They are often very selective with the images which are contained. Social media is less selective, less private and a “bigger album” for us to share our memories with the people we are connected to. There are arguments that physical albums are more personal but having images online means they can never be damaged or potentially lost.
In 2003, Trish Morrissey photographed the series “Seven Years”. This is a reference of the age gap between herself and her elder sister who she worked with to impersonate family members and re-enact memories familiar to most families in the photographs. It was inspired by family photo albums and family relationships. The works question understanding of family photography through staged photographs. In contrast to most family photos, the people in her images rarely smile, allowing the viewer to concentrate on the gestures and body language which reveal hidden tensions between family members.
Sally Mann photographed “Immediate Family” in 1992 which shows her own children photographed in intimate ways to show the identity of her own family and compare to many others. The series was highly criticised due to the nudity of her children, and the sexualisation of the gestures in the images.
Zed Nelson is a documentary photographer from London. He photographed the series “The Family”, which consisted of him photographing a family friend’s son from birth to age 22. He was inspired to do this by time-lapse photography. Each year, on the same date, against the same backdrop, under the same lighting he would photograph them. He said “this way there are no distractions, only the miracle of growth and the changes of time and ageing”.
Although it’s not his own family, there is still an element of personal connections with the images – growing older – which everyone experiences. The sitters are also close family friends so he is able to connect with them. These are images that can be kept by the family forever and be cherished as a memory of the son’s life and achievements growing older. There is an element of sadness to the images, as with the son growing older, you also see the parents growing older.
Through the images you can also see a development of fashion, hairstyles, and changing relationships. Nelson said “the body language fascinates me, between the growing boy and his parents. At first the son stays close to his mother, then he gains independence, and then increasingly bonds with and even mimics his father”. This is something everyone can relate to as this is the standard cycle of growing older.