Saturday, October 2, 2010

Photography: A Critical Introduction - 3. How Sweet it is to Scan

This chapter had a distinctly different feel to the others, less academic, more historical, but carrying far more opinion.  A central thread was the female as casual photographer versus the man as enthusiastic technically orientated amateur photographer.  I caste my mind back to when I was growing up and as far as I can remember my mother never picked up a camera until quite recently.  My dad and grand dad monopolized the cameras our family ever used, indeed my mother or grandmother would probably only take a picture if there was a need for either man in the family to be in the shot.  Today this is very different, photography appears to have lost gender specificity, I am as likely to see a modern DSLR in the hands of either sex.  Taking photographs of the children seems to be a male passion rather than female.

In any case this chapter deals with the use of cameras in the domestic setting and traces the way that camera manufacturers (Kodak) have exploited this rapidly expanding market from the very start.  The idea introduced here of the family album becoming a crucial historic record accords with my own sentiments over the way that history is reprocessed for our consumption.  Most people must now think that history began with the invention of the movie camera and that world war 2 is pretty much all of history.  A family album provides snapshots of social history, although a carefully groomed version.  The chapter artfully covers the growth of photography through the creation of family albums, although again predominantly from a feminist viewpoint.  This though is true to my experience, fathers take photo's, but once printed they are of little interest, it's mothers who paste them into albums and make sure that these gems of family history retain their context.

The central tenet from a theoretical stance is that family photographs are read in very different ways depending upon the context of the viewer and the date of the viewing.  A family member retains context and understands the content within the frame in a completely personal way, whilst a stranger will read the photo in context of the basic content and their own experience of life.  Also clear, is that family imagery paints a very happy view of life, we all smile, we rarely photograph calamity or pain, the camera comes out at Birthdays not Funerals.  I presume that this mirrors our own memory of life, we enhance the good times and repress the bad times.  Christmas will always be that wonderful day when as a 7 year we got exactly what we wanted and TV was left to our own choice, we push to the back of our minds the queezy hungover days of our early twenties, when Christmas had just become an excuse to consume too much alcohol.  This is why photographs such as those of Nan Goldin and Richard Billingham seem so disturbing to me; they mirrored the ugly realities of family life in their photography.

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