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Gillian Rose and Family Photography as Practice

Critics devoted to the study of family photography have privileged the materiality of this phenomenon. Approaches have largely examined the printed materials themselves, preferring a semiological close reading of noteworthy images (69). Rose notes an oversight in the scholarship on photography, and insists that family photographs cannot be defined simply by their visual content (74). While the technical affordances of photographic objects may limit our range of possible interpretations (72), greater attention needs to be paid to the processes of photographic production, storage, display, and exchange. Photography is an assemblage of integrative, social practices in which the objects are equally defined by those practices as they are by their referential content (71).

Rose takes from T.R. Schatzki’s definition of “integrated practices,” and thus reads family photography as “found in and constitutive of particular domains of social life” (72). The practice of family photography – informed by teleoaffective structures – reinforces subjective positions within the family itself. In the viewing, storing, or giving of family photos, we actively confer a certain contextual, heteronormative significance on the photo, and on the family as well.

Rose takes for her study group a number of mothers, and spends a decade with them looking at family photos on walls, in albums, shoeboxes, and computer hard drives. This is measured alongside historical accounts of women traditionally having to negotiate dominant ideologies of domestic femininity with photographic technical skill (75). Family photography, Rose concludes, achieves three particular forms of intersubjective coexistence:

the familial: constituted by the togetherness of the family depicted, and the togetherness of the photos on display. Collages, albums, and slideshow and photo-sharing software open a sort of possibility space wherein these images are viewed with others (76).

the domestic: family snaps help to transform a built space into an emotionally resonant home (76).

the maternal: As producer and curator of this photographic space, the active subject in relation to the photo is the mother (77). Capturing and interpreting children in their “natural” state becomes an authoritative, authentic mark of maternal subjectivity (78).

Shifting conceptions of the family have only intensified the need to perform and articulate familial togetherness (79). Digital technologies have not changed the affective structures underpinning family photography, but they have made the processes of production, storage, and exchange easier (82). The reproducibility and “disposeability” of digital photos have revealed, for the mothers interviewed, that the social practice of sharing is often more important than the images themselves (84).

Rose, Gillian. “How Digital Technologies Do Family Snaps, Only Better.” Digital Snaps: The New Face of Photography. eds. Jonas Larsen and Mette Sandbye. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2015. 67-86. Print.

About Stem #selfie Research

uWaterloo Graduate Student. Herbivore. Sophist. Videogamer. Comics devotee. Bleeding-heart socialist. Sonically-inclined materialist. Sex-positive feminist. Cook. Dork. Researcher. LGBTQIA ally. Newfoundlander. DIY carpenter. Book hoarder. Queergendered pansexual. Awkward Duck. Pretend-adult.



  1. Pingback: Normative Porn: the rise of pornographic snapshots. | Rhetoric of the Digital Image - March 1, 2015

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