While trying to summarize Awkward Family Photos is not the easiest task, what I have come up with will hopefully allow some insight into why this website is so popular. Photographs posted on Awkward Family Photos tend to fall into three categories of what makes them awkward:
a) The first category I will call “expired cool,” in which the photographed are doing something which seemed “cool” to them at the time (or whatever the word for cool was at the time) but are now embarrassed for having done. Typical examples are of the photographed wearing matching clothes, or a being fans of a trend which now seems ridiculous to them.
b) The second broad category I will call “unreadable awkwardness,” wherein photographs are embarrassing for the photographed for some reason that is not clear to the reader unless explained in a caption. Sans caption, the reader will likely not understand why the situation is or was awkward for the photographed (rather than just slightly bizarre [unexpected in a family photograph, in other words]).
c) The third category, into which my personal favourite photographs fall, I call “unavoidable awkwardness,” wherein something is occurring that is beyond the control of the photographed. There is just something so discordant to the idea of family photos about two hippopotamuses having sex behind a young girl, two boys and their grandparents standing in front of a bunch of Hustler magazine cover shots unknowingly, or a man proposing to his girlfriend inside a giant heart which from above looks less like a heart than a caricature of male genitalia. (Now that I think about it, sex, the creator of families, seems ironically anti-family – at least in family photos).
What, though, defines what one expects to see in a family photograph? What sets the norm? Is there something that makes a photo a “family” photograph? Need it simply be a photograph of a family, or are there generic conventions and expectations?
What makes the photographs posted on Awkward Family Photographs awkward (at least for the most part) is that they do not fulfil the expectation of the ideal towards which all family photographs are supposed to strive. The frozen moment in time which is the family photograph is supposed to be highly constructed and artificial; it is supposed to be what the photographed family in reality is not. The photographed are supposed to seem to enjoy themselves, to be happy, to be standing “naturally,” when in reality none of this can ever be the case.
While Awkward Family Photographs is supposed to be a fun website to scroll through in one’s free time, questioning why (and even if) each photograph fits in the category of “awkward” family photo can reveal much about the way we unknowingly reproduce longstanding ideologies in our everyday photographic practices.
Your categories remind me of Catherine Zuromskis’ analysis of snapshot photographs in “Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images”, in which she claims that “[t]hrough production and various forms of consumption, familial groups enforce cultural conventions by choosing when and how snapshots are produced, which snapshots merit circulation and display, and who is granted access to them” (57). The punctum by which these photos seem to pierce their viewers gaze, and the capital by which they circulate, display and are accessed, is described precisely by their designation as “awkward photos”.
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I concur Jason’s comment on how the idea that familial groups perpetrate cultural conventions by choosing how snapshots are produced. And other than punctums, Gillian Rose mentioned how mothers of the 21st century felt the importance to capture “natural” and “real” moments of their children and they culturally acknowledged that “posing” is “artificial” (78), even though back in the 80s or 90s it was culturally accepted to pose.
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