Domestic Snaps,Intimacy and Collective Memories

In My Photography

Domestic snaps carry both people and intangible qualities. The photographs portray the many close friends who draw into my life, memories of which archive as a photo book. These elected fragments in my photography capture who is close to me, and in a brief moment of time, become a part of my extended family. Face-to-face communicating with friends engages me in the understanding of polemical issues in a particular context of Chinese young people. Intimate, sexual and absurd elements irresistibly catch my eye when photographing, and I draw from Judith Butler’s theory in understanding gender complexity and the limits of identification. Nan Goldin has distinctive impact on my photography. She enables me to realise the significance of domestic snaps and collective memories in photography practice. On January 10th, I had a great chance to visit her solo show in London.

Nan Goldin, born September 12, 1953, is an American photographer. Her work often explores LGBT bodies, moments of intimacy, the HIV crisis, and the opioid epidemic. 

Domestic Photography

We have chosen to speak here of ‘private’ or ‘personal’ pictures rather than
the more usual ‘family’ or ‘domestic’ pictures, because our private lives cover so much more than our family lives. The equation between ‘the family’ and private experience is too easily made and excludes too much. The evolution of private photography has indeed been family based but that link is historically contingent, not, as is often assumed, the consequence of ‘natural’ necessity. The story of personal photography is interwoven with a constant re-creation and subversion of what it means to be a family including single parent families, same sex partnerships and reconstituted families. In 1899 it was the picture faces of ‘old friends’ that were apostrophised in M.C. Duncan’s verse, and in the twenty-first century, camera phones are as likely to capture a night out on the town with work colleagues as baby’s first steps. The point has been made by writers such as Terry Dennett, who compare family albums to other sorts of albums that record the lives of clubs, political groups and other networks of support and obligation.

In Britain and the West, the gradual expansion of domesticity from the
respectable middle classes through to all but the very poorest has drawn women, children and finally even men into the ‘charmed circle of home’.5
By the twentieth century such activities as child-care, the preparation of meals and work on improving the house and garden came to be seen as pleasures rather than duties, and the nuclear family became the main resource for close relationships and expressive emotion. Taking snapshots joined a plethora of leisure pursuits which underpinned that specific form of family life. However, photography occupies a peculiar place among those activities, since pictures are themselves carriers of meanings and interpretations. They record and reflect on daily activities, delicately holding within the innocent-seeming image much that is intimate and might otherwise be hidden. Here are M.C. Duncan’s ‘volumes of unwritten life’ for which we must scan beyond the edges of the frame.

Liz Wells

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