Comparative Visions

I’ve known Tavi since I was 3. We grew up in the same area, have many of the same interests, went to the same college, and have walked the same walk to class for 2 years from our apartment to campus.

In trying to illustrate how unique perspectives are represented in photo albums, I sent Tavi out on the task of photographing her walk to class, and I did the same.

The pictures follow, with a short bios.

Tavi, an artistic Art History Major. painter.

Alison an artistic American Studies major. leans toward photography.


From the two sets of photos, it is hard to even tell that it is the same path. We took pictures of the same areas, but in different ways. Tavi’s photos look up and down, while my photos stay at a largely static level. We are both conscious of composition, but use the framing of our photos in different ways.

In this way, we construct two different documents of what the same path looks like. Within the distance from point A to B, there are dozens of small variations, thousands of things to see. A series of photos cannot capture the entirity of this walk, but it does show what each of us as individuals draw from it, what we saw.

Albums function in the same way. We can’t gain a comprehensive vision and fully understand what the experience of walking, or being in a family is like, but we can see at least what a group drew from it, what they saw was significant. Whats worthy of record. What will stand as an icon of family.

Photo albums serve as one portal into these ideas, but one that seems to be fading fast. The ever expanding world of digital photography and digital photos present new ways of telling ones story. And I don’t know myself if this increase in access provides a more or less telling picture of a life.

So, I encourage you to look inward, then out. How do you see whats around you? Where do your stakes lie? What kind of narrative are you living, and how will you leave that behind?

Photo Album Check

I’ve been on the opposite side of albums for a while now.
My family never really made them. Photos were stored their yellow envelopes in boxes under the pinball machine. Upon getting them back from the “photoman,” a camera booth in the center of a parking lot near my house, my mother, father and I would sit together, outside on the patio if it was nice, and review the photos together. We always had two copies, and sometimes I would hold one in my hand if I liked it, or glance quickly and pass it away if I didn’t. As I grew older, I cared more about the serial nature of the photos, keeping them the way they came. I see that a lot in how I am now, and its become increasingly so.

I talked with Janet Delaney about her experiences with photo albums over the weekend. The ability of an object or idea to occupy significance in different ways in different lives is truly amazing. Her multigenerational albums are a study in dicipline. Looking at the albums separate and as a whole renewed my appreciation for all the time, the energy, the memory, the belief necessary to complete an album. To come to terms with what has been and take record after the event has passed is a kind of study of ones life. Whose responsibility is this record keeping, and is it a responsibility at all? These are questions I don’t know the answers to, but want to explore in my own life.

This is how I looked on my 21st birthday:

9/29/2009 at 9:42 am

Talking with Janet also brought up other issues and things to explore in my research. My view on albums is limited by my lack of historical references and technological understand of the time periods I am looking at, and my interpretations may be narrowed as such. Finding a balance between my eye as I have trained it and the research I will consume in the coming months will be an interesting development.

New knowledge: Looking through viewfinders of cameras in the late 60s was hard, and film was expensive as well. This plays into the type of pictures which were produced, though the difference between the albums I saw was remarkable. Right now I am considering questions of how albums can be diagnostic vs. documentary, or both. The experience shown in the albums was the life lived but it may be framed in a certain way.

I keep wondering. I keep looking.

The Villareal Family Album

Villareal Album Cover

The album cover has a floral print; white, blue and yellow flowers on a green background. Printed in gold in fading capital letters is the word ALBUM, front and center, although almost lost against the loud print. The cover is in decent shape, some peeling, flaking and scratches on the cover. The middle chunk of the album is a loose piece now, having torn from the outer cover where the heavy pages on their spiral have ripped away from the binding. Overall though, this album is in good condition, and fairly complete

This is the album of the Villareal family, with special focus on the daughter, Ruby Villareal from c.1976. The bulk of the album centers on Ruby’s success at the Betsy Ross School in Culver City, California. The location and dates were ascertained by the various pictures and documents in the album. The Villareals appear to have three children, two daughters and a son. Ruby may be the oldest, and perhaps this contributes to why she receives the most attention in the album. Nearly half of the album is taken up by her numerous school and extracurricular certificates and honors, for both academic and physical achievements.

First Page and Album Detioration

The first two pages side by side are very particular.

Pages 2 & 3 of Album

The first, on the left (page 2 of the album) has two small certificates, certifying Ruby’s completion of two levels in math.


The opposite page holds four photographs, placed sideways to allow for more room.

Page 3 of Album

The first is a wedding picture, the bride and groom standing together beside a formally set table. Below that photo is a heavily blurred photo of a young girl and woman standing together, the mothers arm wrapped around the young girl as they lean into each other.

Beside those two photos are a pair of photos, one likely taken right after the other. In it, two young girls and a woman (who appears to be in blurry photo on the left) look left to some unknown entertainment. Their faces are largely hidden, either tuned away or cut off though in the first shot, we can see a profile of Ruby smiling.

Interestingly, her eyeline in the shot meets that of the smiling wedded couple. These four photos seem to be a mishmosh of events, thrown together with nothing to relate them except proximity. Though further examination of the album, it may be able to be discerned why these photos were grouped together, but for now, it is an interesting grouping that in ways, is characteristic of the rest of the ways photos are presented in this album.

Level Check

Every frame in a photo album provides a piece of evidence into a family’s life, not only as to their personal experience, but on their view on the world and how their family exists within it. We notice things individually because of our history, our experiences, our interests, and what makes us ourselves. Thus, though we cant fully embody the experience of being in a family, in putting together an album, a family cannot help but express their own point of view and narrative.

Each photo encompasses a series of choices. The first is that of the individual in taking the photo, selecting an event or image is important and significant in that they want to capture it. This embodies a certain frame of mind particular to that individual; the way an event is photographed embodies a choice to portray what they saw in a certain way. Over the course of an album, or comparatively between albums, patterns emerge and are broken, suggesting the specialized worldview of the family.

The second decision is to include that particular photo taken in an album, where it becomes part of a representation that contributes to a complete image of the family. It is unknown what photos may have been taken and not included, but it is possible to figure what was important to the family, and through an analysis of what was included, to speculate what was left out. For example this could include the photos from the birthday of one child, but not of a sibling’s, or why a particular age was celebrated with a party (perhaps pointing to family importance of a certain age, or an economic abundance).

The third step of analysis looks at the placement of these photos within the album. Though some albums are strictly chronological, others deviate from this type of narrative, suggesting a hierarchy of images, or other ways that the families ordered their world. Missing photos within a page lead to questions of their absence and can also make suggestions about how these albums were separated from the families who made them. The order and groupings of photos can also suggest familial systems of importance that can reveal gendered, domestic and familial roles. Some photo albums have very precise and linear placement of photos, a clear time period illustrated from cover to cover. Others seem haphazardly thrown together, crooked or clumped and out of order.

Happy Halloween

Jokes For Treats

Smile for the Camera!!!

This, to me is the kind of photo I like. Honest.
Well more honest than a forced smile.
But I guess that it’s forced is its own kind of honesty.
Be how you are.

Happy Halloween.

from: http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/slideshow/photo//091030/482/4e4db43b14694f65ad81cde684d81c3e/#photoViewer=/091030/480/4ef38f15da934546af5753b86b3f9b9c

Family Togetherness

joy division

From Awkwardfamilyphotos.com

What makes a family photo… good? Or album-worthy? Or accurate?
Is it where everyone is looking at the camera with a smile, posed in from of the house with a car in the driveway?
Does the perfect photo sequence capture all the points of interest on a trip, looming large behind the family all in a line?
I’m not sure what I think but its possible to discern a consensus, what is perceived to be the perfect photo, the album worthy.  Maybe the perfect photo is haphazard and crooked, or perfect and pristine. What the family feels is representational of their family may be more revealing about their true nature than the photo themselves.

Cover Story


School Days and Snapshots, Souvenir of Oskaloosa, Iowa

Albums come in all shapes, all sizes. Some albums tell you what they’re for others act as a blank slate. Here I have a picture of two albums which have prescribed uses. One is “School Day Treasures” and the other is “Snapshots, Souvenir of  Oskaloosa, Iowa” c.1930.

School days is from c.1940 and belonged to Billie Jean Brady of Centerville, Iowa. This particular album is a perfect example of albums that have prescribed uses and walk the user through making an album of their “School Day Treasures.” The album is also rare in that Billie Jean was thorough in filling in all the sections, including the index with the senior photos of all her classmates. In a way, albums like this, with sections preprinted and lined for classmates, class song (left blank), songs and cheers (filled to capacity), student organization (student council, thespian club, pep club), dramatic clubs (a copy of a reading of “A Kitty Goes Adopting” is included), jokes, entertainments (the social events like dances at the school), invitations (for prom), autographs, graduation and more, serve many purposes. The provide a lens into Billie Jean’s actual experience of being in high school in 1940, but also act discern what life was supposed to be like, what social interactions and experiences were seen as typical and necessary enough to be mass produced. What experiences is she supposed to have? Where does her own life have to fill in the album? Since she was so thorough in most sections, it can be assumed that those she left blank were where her life did not overlap with what the album thought it would be. Who makes these albums? What experience do they draw from? Does an album like this have only one use? I still need to find out.


School Day Treasures of Happy Memories




Student Organization






Senior Photos


Senior Photos


Senior Photos


Senior Photos

Music of the day: Find it if you can, its worth it. It’s A Beautiful Day- Self Titled LP. 1969.


Some of my albums.

We all have them. We’ve let our eyes glide past them or groaned heavily at their dusty emergence from a shelf. We’ve seen them growing up, used as clichés in sappy movies, and somewhat neglected them in the face of the digital revolution. Photo albums have been with American society a long time and continue to persist for reasons deeply rooted in the way we understand the world. They can provide key insight into the particular ideologies of a time period, family, or individual, in ways that secondary texts cannot access. They are the raw data of our society, as well as the tools families use to establish their place within it. They are our history as only we make it, for better and worse.

One of the most prevalent forms of visual culture is the photograph. With the cheap and streamlined production of the camera, photography presents many levels of access, both to the layman and professional. People have relied on photography to act as a certain and true record of what has happened, although this has never been exactly true, and is increasingly so now with the advent of digital technologies that lend themselves easily to altering the image. Photography is subjective, subject to the view of the individual who takes the picture and uses their viewpoint to capture an event. This image then becomes detached from the initial event, and begins to do its own work as a text.

Growing up, I have both been heavy participant in, and often resistant subject of photography. From this dualistic understanding, I have come to appreciate the media in its many forms, focusing especially on photo albums. Over the last six years, I have collected over a dozen photo albums, from garage sales, thrift stores, and even off the street.  I intend to take these albums and from them gain insight into the American interpretation and familial use of the camera and photo album. I will investigate how norms of visual imaging are reproduced, undermined, complicated, and create patterns over the course of one, or several photo albums, and present this knowledge through the creation of a self-reflexive photo album. This approach will provide a new lens with which to examine American culture and family using the viewpoints of the families themselves.

I am working with vernacular photography, photos taken by non-professionals. Studying these kinds of photos provides first hand insight into the lives of American families, as well as how they view themselves as a unit and individuals. Photo albums are used by families to make a sort of visual history, photo albums being a literal book about their family. Within photo albums, norms and patterns emerge, suggesting a universal idea of the form that families draw from and use to construct their own histories. I have been working closely with photo albums put together by single families. These albums are compiled to tell a story, or construct a history of a family. They usually center on a single family over the course of several years, sometimes with inscriptions or other small memorabilia included. The photo album is a distinct form, used by many families to understand and document their experience as a group. They hold to several general themes, but their execution is always slightly different and unique.

This blog is various outpourings, spurts of ideas and other meditations on the point, and hopefully will spur some thought about these items that are made for looking, but somehow rarely seen.

more photos coming… think about your own in the time between

Hello world!