Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory | National Humanities Center

Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory

By Marianne Hirsch (NHC Fellow, 1992–93)

Photography; Family; Memory; Narrative

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997

From the publisher’s description:

Family photographs—snapshots and portraits, affixed to the refrigerator or displayed in gilded frames, crammed into shoeboxes or cataloged in albums—preserve ancestral history and perpetuate memories. Indeed, photography has become the family's primary means of self-representation. In Family Frames Marianne Hirsch uncovers both the deception and the power behind this visual record.

Hirsch provocatively explores the photographic conventions for constructing family relationships and discusses artistic strategies for challenging those constructions. When we capture our family photographically, we are often responding to an idealized image. Contemporary artists and writers, Hirsch shows, have exposed the gap between lived reality and a perceived ideal to witness contradictions that shape visual representations of parents and children, siblings, lovers, or extended families. Exploring fiction, "imagetexts," and photographic essays, she elucidates their subversive devices, giving particular attention to literal and metaphorical masks. While permitting false impressions and misreadings, family photos have also proved a powerful means for shaping personal and cultural memory. Hirsch highlights a striking example: the wide variety of family pictures surviving the Holocaust and the wrenching displacements of late-twentieth-century history. Whether personal treasures, artistic constructions, or museum installations, these images link private memory to collective history.

History / Photography / Family / Memory / Narrative /

Hirsch, Marianne (NHC Fellow, 1992–93). Family Frames: Photography, Narrative, and Postmemory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.