Families have recollections, both individual memories and as shared group knowledge. In the form of the family photograph album these memories seemingly coalesce into a family fact. But any family event which prompts the perusal of albums can quickly develop into uncomfortable revelations…
That sounds like the synopsis of a tight-budget, straight-to-DVD movie from the ‘nineties but I’m going to develop this little exploration loosely along those lines. Although each photograph in the album is notionally a fact, the circumstances surrounding it will vary from person to person.
Those present at the time will have additional authority, that of actual memory, but this can be unreliable. My mother was an assiduous snapshot collector and still takes delight in exposing hapless grandchildren to embarrassing pictures from their childhood in the presence of new boy- and girlfriends. Her recollection of the circumstances surrounding each picture, while vague when expressed as a stand-alone reminiscence, solidifies noticeably when supported by the photograph.
When younger family members engage in this ritual they have to rely on the older to provide additional information for pictures taken when they were very young; as their record progresses they can take more control of the readings.
So what about the revelations? These might take several forms. Editing the collection for example.
For our family, one individual has been totally expunged from the record due to the sensibilities of the curator. The absence is not remarked upon even though the discarded pictures would have included otherwise respectable members. A simple explanation suffices: he went to Australia. I’m pretty sure his destination was more HMP than AUS but there’s little to be gained by digging. The code of silence is inculcated in each successive generation at the curator’s unspoken behest.
The Keeper of the Albums holds a degree of power, particularly when the photographs represent a time before later viewers were born. Often there is little supporting evidence for the stories surrounding pictures other than the Keeper’s memory. This can easily give rise to legends forming, particular constructions attached to certain photographs; the one of me. age seven, in a lifeguard landrover shows the triumphant return of an adventurous child after a thrilling ride across the dunes. Or a terrified boy being returned by the emergency services having been lost for an hour. Take your pick. The former version does rather gloss over the question of who was supposed to be watching him.
The family album must inevitably mean different things to each of those included, but it does form part of their personal history and assists the construction of the internal as well as the external self.
This leads directly on to exercise 3.5, where I rehabilitate Samuel in a series of pictures which show him in a more personal light.