Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory
10 - 11 July 2014
Birkbeck College, University of London
I was recently invited to give a Keynote address on 'Diasporic Families and the Production of Locality in European Cinema' at the Picturing the Family conference. Papers and artist presentations at this conference explored how concepts of family and alternative forms of kinship have been acted out, reinvented, or deconstructed, through various media including the visual arts, literature, and museum exhibitions, across the centuries. The family picture was considered both in its figurative and artefactual forms, including literature, film and photography.
Some of the key questions were: what are the changing conventions of the family picture and how do they reflect the changing conceptions of the institution of the family? Who is the addressee of the family portrait? How do family narratives and family pictures inform each other? What is the role of family pictures in individual and cultural memory? Is the family a privileged site of memorial transmission (Aleida Assmann, Marianne Hirsch)? Has it become the central trope through which national history is framed? What role do family pictures play within other cultural forms, e.g. in literature or film? Can other cultural forms offer alternatives to the kinds of family portrait we associate with photography?
Professor Martha Langford (Concordia University) gave the introductory Keynote 'Indefinite Articles: Family Photographs as Objects of Research', in which she shared some photos from her own family album, examining her mother Lucille's European tour at the time of the Cold War, in relation to the significant body of literature on family photography and memory, including her own seminal contributions to this field. Professor Annette Kuhn's (Queen Mary, University of London) Keynote 'Family Misfortunes: Mutations of the British Social Film' traced the realist aesthetics of British family-themed films, giving an impressively wide ranging account that ranged from kitchen sink drama over Loach's Family Life to The Arbor.
The conference also provided a platform for several artists, including Rosy Martin, Lizzie Thynne and Nick Bird, who are members of the Family Ties Network to present their fascinating work. The work of Family Ties artists was showcased at an exhibiton at The Petz Gallery in London.