Photo Album

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Thomas Warren
Research and discuss the family photograph album. How and why is the family album used to construct notions of identity?

Introduction
Family photo albums have existed in many different forms. Not only as a personal flick book documentation containing “the chronicles of a family’s private story” (Fong, 2004, p.86) capturing special moments and events of the past; but the idea of documenting one’s past through images has been in existence since humans roamed the earth. Through pre-historic silhouettes of humans painted on cave walls; through the Renaissance where portraiture was available to those families who could afford it; to the point in history where cameras were available to the amateur mass public whereby photographs could be developed by any single individual. Here moments could be captured at complete ease in great volumes and assembled into albums and passed down to generations. But why the desperation to capture our identities in these freeze-frame moments that were previously hours? What do these freeze-frames say about our families, our identities and ourselves? This paper will discuss these ideas and how a photo album is a selective and stylized documentation of our lives. Theories of how the awareness of others viewing one’s “private story” could manipulate one’s personal identity through careful selection of chosen images displayed in the photo album. How the photo album generates nostalgia and longing that transports the viewer from an unpredictable future to a past that is stable. And finally how the overwhelming support of the Internet allows one’s photo album to be rendered digitally for many others to view questioning that the photo album is only a narrow vision of one’s life and therefore portraying an artificial lifestyle.

Many generations of families have used the photo album to document their lives and record proof of their existence. Despite our ever-changing life style we use photography to capture these moments and feelings to convey our sense of identity. West “Susan Sontag argues that all photographs aestheticize reality because the photographer selects what seems worthy of special and lingering attention to capture on film.” (West 2000, pg.2) These ‘freeze frames’ not only form and shape our history but also dictate what we appear to be. When we look at photographs we are not only looking into the pigments that fill this frame but also looking back into memories. Do we really remember the event, or is our memory altered because of the existing proof that is the medium of photography?

Typically in everyday life instantly we make snap judgments of individuals; from where they come from, to the style of hair they have. Nonetheless the portraits of these strangers do not provide us with an accurate description of their identities. Sometimes we imagine what we would look like to others, and thus a constructed identity is created for the sole purpose of perception to these people. Larry Sultan (1985) states "Photography is there to construct the idea of us as a great family and we go on vacations and take these pictures and then we look at them later and we say, 'Isn't this a great family?” (Sultan, 1985) If this argument proves correct then the photographs and frames that are glued into our beloved family album should provide us with questions such as- Were we really happy in that moment in time?

Larry Sultan is an American photographer and produced a series of ‘Home made’ pictures of his mother and father in everyday life around their home. Larry challenged himself by visualizing and creating traditional photographs of his parents as an attempt to create a sense of identity to a traditional family photo album. Therefore he (Sultan, L. 1992, pg. 109)

provided his mother and father with roles and “stage directions” of action and posture, all of which to his desire. Larry Sultan (1992)...
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