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Catching the Family Beast

Posted on 17 Feb 2017

Stephen McLaren, photographer and co-author of 'Family Photography Now' talks to fellow snapper Bill Knight.

Methodist family in north London, 2009 [Credit: Bill Knight, 2009]

Why is family photography important?

Because there is so much of it around these days and the work offers us insights into the intimacy that exists in that most universal of institutions. Virtually every decent photographer has had a go at photographing their family at some point. Sometimes it’s just the odd snap for posterity, but more and more, serious photographers are using their proximity to their relatives as a route into producing a fascinating study of modern family life.

How did you go about assembling the images for the book?

Thanks to a great network of knowledgeable friends and colleagues, and not forgetting the power of internet searches, we quickly ascertained which photographers, from all over the world, were producing original and well-executed bodies of work. After contacting the photographers who were exciting us we consulted with each one on which images could convey their work over eight pages in the book. The jigsaw puzzle of making a series of images work over just a few pages is where a lot of the creativity in the book resides and it feels like a genuinely collaborative process.

Could you tell us a bit about the response to the Instagram project #familyphotographynow, led by the Photographers’ Gallery?

The Instagram project being run by the Photographers’ Gallery complements the book so well. It proves that people are as equally simulated by looking at and reading books as they are by sharing photographs on social media. The book has inspired a lot of creative energy among relatively new photographers which is then finding an outlet on Instagram. Who knows – perhaps some of those now sharing photographs through the project will find themselves featured in a future Thames & Hudson title.

Pick an image that you think will last, and tell us why.

One of the most inventive photographers in the book is Tim Roda, who lives in New York. He photographs himself alongside his wife and son within a series of specially constructed sets which convey stories derived from ancient myths and psychoanalysis. The photographs can be simultaneously funny, disturbing and hard to decipher, but each one is unique and loaded with a sense of craft and ingenuity. A lot of photography suffers from being faddish but Roda’s work feels totally unique and full of risky experimentation and for those reasons will be worth looking back at in decades to come.

Is the baguette praying? [Credit: Tim Roda, Untitled #163, 2009]

Do you think that photography can help families with their troubles?

It’s no coincidence that people often say that if a fire broke out in their home they would save a family album before anything else. In the past most families had a designated photographer – often a parent – who takes the most family photographs. With the advent of cameraphones we now have a much more democratic source of images, thanks to younger people contributing to the family archive. Obviously much of that archive is now moving to online platforms and images are being shared as soon as they have been taken, but I think all this interaction is bound to bring family members closer together.

Does she know what she's doing? [Credit: Polona Avanzo: from the project #familyphotographynow]

Family Photography Now

Sophie Howarth, Stephen McLaren Out of stock