This is a family photograph
This is a family photograph. Several things vex you, such as why the girl is looking at you, and you wonder what it really means in the age of private photography to be in the bosom of your family or even to have a family. And you write this essay and your attempt to answer goes like this:
To have a family means, above all, one thing: to have a photograph of one’s family – to be included in a photograph of one’s family – to be a part of a group in a private family photograph of one’s family, to co-exist visually. In an ever-increasingly visual culture, this means really being there for people, perhaps increasingly often and increasingly urgently really being in the picture. A growing fixation on image in self-perception and self-construction seems indisputable. However, the question whether this is linked to a loss of linguistic and narrative competence has not been resolved – a loss that Walter Benjamin once diagnosed for modernity in his “narrator” essay in an equally forceful and melancholic way. Applied to family memories, is it true that people only tend to show each other family photographs and that they no longer tell family stories, or rather can tell them to convey their self and family identity? “We come from such-and-such, and back then grandpa did…and grandma was known for…and once she…and after that, her mother-in-law…and then my mother was born…” Or how do family photograph rituals really work? What actually takes place traditionally when we pick up a family photograph or project a slide on the wall slide (our “memory”) and then point to ourselves in this photograph and then say “That was us! – That is us! That’s me there right at the front on the left wearing a white pullover”? In the end, doesn’t looking collectively at pictures reproduce linguistic and narrative events, despite all the iconophobic cultural criticism? “Do you remember…? Remember that time…?” Isn’t there just a nod in return, an indefinite, vague nod? Do we understand this nod, its meaning and implications – by it, do we mean something to one another? How does photographic communication take place? It might be up to a new visual sociology and ethnology to research more carefully how people refer to themselves and each another by referring to their own family photographs and how they understand each other in these photographs.
And you return to this photograph as if from a long journey without any explanations. Rainer Totzke
Hands and a ‘we’
The girl’s hands. Her fingers touch each other, lying on her skirt seam, half resting on her left knee. The handmade, knitted skirt is a summer present from her grandmother. The grandmother’s hand gently touches the edge of the knitted skirt with her fingertips. Just because. Barely noticeable. A gesture that shows affection. A soft, wordless appropriation: “The skirt that I knitted for you.” Her hands have worked, in the garden, in the kitchen, and have often been wiped on the apron that protects her dress.
Women’s hands. Hands and arms of both women. A tender choreography of unawareness, showing intimacy and kinship: the punctum of this photograph.
The other punctum: a chair that is shared for the duration of taking the photograph. Standing behind the backrest, stooping to fit into the format, the girl’s grandfather. Without placing his hands on the women’s shoulders. A spontaneous, “Why don’t you join us?” and “We’ll take another photo with the three of you”.
Before this, there were many photos of the girl. On her own. The mechanical sound of the shutter as the expression of the moment. Then photos of the girl with her grandmother when she’s visiting. And everyone holding their breath for seconds and keeping still until the camera clicks and the film is exposed. These moments pass slowly. In these moments, everyone feels the body warmth, the presence of the other.
Being there, between beats, between the creation of a photograph. Several ‘I’s. Several ‘you’s. And in between, something like a ‘we’. Birgit Szepanski