‘I pick up a photograph, a wonderful sepia set piece, the Blakemores circa 1895, my great-grandmother and her four children posed on a bench, two girls in lace dresses and frills, a besuited boy with a book open in his hand, and a baby in a bonnet. I look at them in their allotted roles‚ -the Eternal Mother (she died within a year), the Proud Beauty (married a womanizer), the Scholar (gassed in the trenches), the Daddy's Girl (but Daddy remarried), the Baby of the Family (already with his bottle)‚ -and I follow their stares back to the man taking the picture, the Absent Father, who had his story too, grief and nervous breakdown. I think how cruelly far the reality of their lives was from what the camera had chosen or predicted for them that day, and how the photo lost nothing in feeling for my knowing this, and how that must mean art can lie as much as it likes, or needs to, and we forgive it anything so long as it is art. The people captured here are real, and there's a frisson in knowing that, which you couldn't get from painting or fiction; but truth does not come into it at all.’
Blake Morrison (1993) And When did You Last See Your Father (Penguin 1994 Edition)
What Is A Family Album?
The family album is a volume of experiences, constructed and presented as historical truth and of immense visual and emotional importance to the owner. These images fill in our gaps; they offer us a method of reconciling our existence, and in so doing bear witness to our internal connectedness with both ourselves, and externally with our family and the rest of humanity; it is often the only proof of our existence at all. It creates a link with both the past and the future and eventually, it provides the one and only link between ‘us’ and ‘there’ or ‘them‘ and ‘then’. Cameras go with family life. A family’s photographic album is generally about us now, but becomes a historic document of the extended family. It seems you cannot claim to have seen anything, been anywhere or ‘belonged’ unless you have photographed it.
Through the production of the family album, we create an idealised image of the world and our place within it and more importantly our relationships. In this document we choose to present photographs of us looking our best, both physically and emotionally, where they are praised for their candor, by the audience that we select to view it.
The family album has its truths of course, but the justification that it shows how it really was, is not so clear. It is a very worthy document, however it is also has a role as a defence against our anxieties. Family albums actively promote nostalgia; one could argue that photography, far from documenting the truth, succeeds more in hiding it.