All in the Family

George Hunter, MB: Winnipeg - Typical River Heights Family at Home, 1945

Diana Thorneycroft, Untitled (Family Self-Portrait), 1990

Our understanding of the family unit is often deeply rooted within our personal, political, and cultural backgrounds. Families often share similar characteristics, but no two are the same. Intertwining traditions, places, roles, relationships, generations, and hierarchies--notions of the family abound. Indeed, it is a social construct; perpetuating but never fully realizing its own ideological fantasy.

While the nuclear family fantasy may remain, the reality is disconnected from it. Heteronormative traditions are questioned. Kinship, shared experiences, care, and a feeling of belonging have come to overlook the requirement of blood relations. An alternative family network emerges through friendships, or in spaces where individuals share an intense proximity. Families no longer look like their glossy representations in visual culture.

Photography and the family traditionally convene in the family album. A treasured artifact, it is the realm in which stories and collective identities are made, often built on optimistic selections over best-forgotten memories. In ignoring the undesirable, the family album displays the highlights of family life, but can only tell a half-truth.

The relocation of photographs from the album’s private sphere into a public place initiates a change in meaning.  In the gallery, we read the space between the lines, without the nostalgia attached to our own family albums. Indeed, its very placement in the gallery implicitly encourages critical reflection.

All in the Family considers how photographers in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s collection approach this social group. United by their interest in the human connection, the artists reflect on and often use the familial sphere as a springboard to examine other concerns. In doing so, they reveal images that construct, reinforce and also confront family ideologies, but cannot represent or define them. They invite our curiosity and toy with our own expectations, as viewers of images, Gallery visitors, and family members.

Artists such as Sheila Spence, Diana Thorneycroft and Rosalie Favell examine the formation of identity in relation to family. Shared experiences bond the photographic subjects of Brent Hume, Thelma Pepper and Michael Klein, where biology may not. Donigan Cumming, George Hunter and Don Hall consider the charged spaces in which families inhabit, and the duty of care is questioned in Barbara Cole, Becky Singleton and John Massey’s images. By reframing the family and the family album’s nostalgic half-truths, they remind us of photography’s own fallacies and fictions.

For a more in-depth look at this exhibition, click here for an essay by curator Alex King.

Click here for the CBC Manitoba Scene article on artist Diana Thorneycroft.

Click here for a review of the exhibition in the Winnipeg Free Press.





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