Project 7: The digital family album

Exercise 2.3

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This exercise required me to “produce a piece of work that either explores the family album and its iconography or reflects on representations of the self in digital culture”.  I chose the option of producing a series of six photographs “which reference the family album in some way”.

My starting point for this exercise was to think about what family photographs I had been taking recently.  I realised that, like a lot of modern families, many of my recent photographs are snapshots taken on my mobile phone.  As discussed in the course notes, it seems that modern technology gives us the potential to take lots of photographs, but at the same time, it prevents us from really looking at them.  How many of us actually sit down with our mobile phone and spend time looking at our photographs?  Images are viewed fleetingly, then simply forgotten, lost in the electronic ether.

In 2011, Erik Kessels addressed this in his 24 Hrs in photos installation by printing out all of the photographs uploaded to Flickr within a given day.  It was this idea of creating physical prints from digital images that gave me the inspiration for my family album series.  I picked six of my recent smartphone photographs – all taken of my two young children – and printed them out on A4 paper.

After printing out the photographs, I decided to take a collaborative approach to creating the final images for this exercise.  A couple of the photographers that I have been looking at recently have adopted such an approach as a means of connecting with their subjects.  Both Carolyn Drake (Wild Pigeon) and Elske Verdoorn (People of Domus) have created beautiful and fascinating images by asking their subjects to physically alter their photographs (for example, drawing on, cutting up, and/or covering with paint and other materials).  It occurred to me, that in taking a similar approach with my own children (e.g., getting them to draw/paint on the pictures of themselves), the final images would say so much more about them.

For example, in my first image of my youngest son, the smartphone photograph is a close-up of his face, which whilst cute, is devoid of any context and tells a viewer (if I ever even showed the digital image to anyone) very little about the subject.  In asking my son to decorate it though it becomes something else.  He chose to cover his face in yellow paint, to add some other scribbles and a yellow pop pom.  At the moment, yellow is both his favourite colour and favourite word.  If asked what colour something is, he will always say its yellow, and if the object is in fact a different colour, he will say yellow regardless, but with a knowing smile on his face.  Which then, tells a viewer more about the child, the photograph or the decorations?  In printing, and collaboratively altering the photographs, the disposable smartphone images become a real object; a true archive of a given moment of family history.

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