Family Photography Now

I chose this book for a birthday present, having seen it on Sian Davey’s Facebook page. I wasn’t sure what to expect, whether it would be more of a “how to” type book, or an anodyne compendium. I was very happy to see that it was neither of those.

There are over 320 photographs by at least 40 photographers. Technically they are arranged into two sections – one of photographers “embedded” (to use their rather military term) in their own families, and the second of photographers who have worked with other families. This is the coarsest of distinctions however, a couple of passes through the book reveals a complex series of linked themes. From brothers, sisters, parents, through cultures, spaces and possessions, a wish for reconnection with self and/or others, medical challenges, infertility, death, subversion of the normal famil… these are only a few of the themes that revealed themselves to me. Pull on one shimmering thread and other families and photographers emerge. The index to the book is very lightweight compared to the wealth of images and subject matter. You certainly need notes if you are to stand a chance of later finding the photographs of Turkish bodybuilders with their mothers without the memory of the photographer’s name. I have started a mind-map to cross-reference images and their authors – it’s here in its current incomplete state.

Family Photography Now Sophie Howarth & Stephen McLaren.png

All of the images here have stories to tell, and all the photographers tell the stories in their own way. It is not a classical family album. Some people have gone out of their way to avoid the smiling cliché, but who’s to say that blank-faced groups won’t become their own cliché, given time? It made me think about the structure of our families, the fact that the nuclear hetero-sexual 2+2 is rapidly becoming a historical artefact. The book deals sympathetically and bravely with the way that photographs help us to both grieve and remember those who we lost, or never got to meet. Elina Brotheras’ series on the reality of failed IVF is heart-breaking and a subject that you rarely see documented in any way, let alone photographic. It made me think of the work I did on how we remember our miscarried, lost and still-born babies although it is very different. Other explored themes can be seen in the mind map above.

I think this is one of the most useful books I have. Photographers are current, and the writing is accessible. Recommended.

Howarth, S. and McLaren, S. (2016) Family photography now. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.

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