“The family” is a fairly broad concept for a body of work. Is it your own family, is it a created family, is it a family you know well, one you don’t know at all? One common thread throughout most bodies of work that involve a family is that they all show moments that those who are not a direct part of the family (or a very close friend) would never see. Intimate moments of everyday life that most people find uninteresting, yet are some of the most interesting aspects of the way that people interact with each other. And in most series of photographs regarding family, viewers can see that the “perfect” family doesn’t really exist.
Whether the photographer was photographing his or her own family, an outside family, or a created family, each series of photographs tells a story that would otherwise not be seen. As humans, we are curious creatures. And as people who all have a “family” – whatever that word means to you – it’s interesting to see (through the photographer’s voyeuristic lens) how others interact with those that they are forced to spend time with.
While many photographers have created bodies of work based on family photography in the past, there are a lot of interesting modern photographers who have taken their own spin on this subject and created a wide variety of work.
Fred Heuning, a photographer based in Berlin, created a series of photographs for a book called Drei – meaning ‘three’ in German – in which he documents the relationship between his wife and his son. Heuning never stages his photographs, which makes every single image feel raw and truthful. He simply documents the everyday happenings of his family life, moments that seem insignificant but that he doesn’t want to rid himself of. Mother and child in the bath, mother and child nude outdoors playing with a hose, a floor covered in spilt milk, and mother sleeping while the child lies awake under the couch. These are the everyday, mundane moments that are beautiful through the eyes of the photographer.
Motoyuki Daifu, based in Yokohama, was tired of seeing the cookie-cutter images of everyone’s families on social media, and wanted to create a body of work that counteracted the picture-perfect moments that everyone worked so hard to create. He chose to photograph his own family’s home, creating images that are completely opposite of those that you’d normally share with the public. This body of work is called Project Family, and showcases photographs of his family members sitting at a table littered with trash and old food, family members laying around in a messy room, and a sink filled to the brim with dirty dishes.
Christian Wilbur, based in Long Island, created a beautiful series of photographs entitled With or Without You, in which he explores the affects of his brother’s handicap on both himself and his immediate family. The series of photographs captures the transition of his brother from his home to a care facility, and the sense of loss in each photograph is almost tangible. From a photograph of a hole in the wall created by a doorknob to a mother solemnly looking away from the lens of the camera, this series of photographs truly makes the viewer feel as though they are grieving with the family.
Anay Mann, based in New Delhi, has also created a series of photographs that revolve around the daily life of his wife and his son. While the subject matter is similar to that of Fred Heuning’s, the photographs give off a completely different emotion. While Heuning’s series was almost romanticizing the little moments between mother and son, Mann’s series – entitled About Neetika – shows the exhaustion that comes from having a young child. In one photograph, his wife cleans a glass door while looking exhausted, eyes focused on a point beyond the photographer. In another, his wife strings up towels on a clothesline while his soon looks through the window at her. Anay Mann shows a family life that is not always easy, yet you can tell that the photographer truly cares about the subjects he is photographing.
Photographer Doug Adesko, based in Brooklyn, has worked for over ten years on a series of photographs he calls Family Meal, in which he documents families eating together at the same table. While the photographs don’t seem as though they have any sort of meaning at first glance, if you look at them longer you can see the subtleties that make up the family dynamic. Adults talk to each other while children look bored off into the distance, families don’t look or talk to each other at all, and some children require more attention than others. Through this series of photographs, you get a glimpse into the many different family dynamics that exist.
If you were to create a series of photographs revolving around “the family”, what would the subject matter be? Would you try to show a family that seemed to be getting along easy, or would you dig deeper into the problems that they share? Would you document families related by blood, or those that are chosen? While it may seem like the subject of “the family” has been overdone, there are an almost unlimited amount of subjects that can be covered within that broad range.
This topic is just one of many you can expect to explore when taking a photography course at the New York Film Academy.Family Photography by Helen Kantilaftis