Every Family is a rich and vast culture, which is worth of getting closer to in order capture and document meaningful stories. Getting close to them, won’t be easy though. I believe that doing Family Portraits is one thing, but crafting a body of work that shows the intimacy of a family in is most beautiful state, is another one. Doing commercial family photography is not a bad thing, and there are some aspects that I consider are fundamental in order to work things out smoothly:
Every Family is a complex origin, is the starting point of the way we do things and who we are. Society out of single families helps shaping people, but the primordial definition of who somebody is, begins in the household. The great thing about families, is that they are the oldest form of social institution, and has no distinctions for religions, cultures or geographies. From love to hierarchy, from competition to close friendship, from fears to hobbies, families are where everything happens.
When the doors of a household are closed, only the ones living inside know really what happens. This is why so many photographers have decided to make their own families their best subject of study, like Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Tina Barney, Yurie Nagashima. Want it or not, we all have families.
One of the earliest known works of Family Documentation, is the work of Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange commissioned by the US Farm Security Administration, which is in simple words a record of the struggles families endured in the great depression of the 1930s in the United States. The iconic image of the Migrant Mother and its context, is a great example of photographers getting a little bit closer to foreign families with a wider intention than just “family portraits”. I said little because it has been known that they spent little time which every family they got to know while creating the record of the families that migrated from one state to another, but still is a good example of how a photographer can get close to a foreign family.
A widely accepted function of families, is that they are the previous training for developing in the outside world. From teachers to psychologists, they all have reinforced the importance of this primordial state of socialization.
Photography changes the connection to Family History. I’m borrowing the title from an essay written by Maureen Taylor. We get closer to our past with photography, it doesn’t matter if the images were poor in quality, domestic and vernacular, they are the instrument for us to connect with our past, and is important that we treasure them as the time traveling instruments they are.