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Family Photo Albums of the 19th and 20th Centuries - Essay Example

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The photograph has become ubiquitous in the modern day. The ease of capturing visual images by disposable cameras and even portable telephones has forever changed the way Americans perceive and display family photography. In contrast to the people of the 19th Century, who witnessed the birth of the camera and its cloth-shrouded operator, experienced the fizzle and smoke of flash powder, and waited to actually view the resulting picture, the contemporary family thinks nothing of snapping an image and immediately viewing the result…
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Family Photo Albums of the 19th and 20th Centuries
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Family Photo Albums of the 19th and 20th Centuries

Download file to see previous pages... Where the 19th and 20th Centuries are similar is in the purpose of the family album. Regardless of the era, families have wanted to preserve and remember people and events with which they shared a common bond. Whether the picture was derived from a professionally-posed portrait in the Victorian era or a "parent...taking a snapshot of a child on holiday with an instamatic or throw-away camera," there has always been the expectation that there was a "restricted audience [for] the family album, to be viewed by close friends as well as present and future members of the family."1 The commonality of the album's purpose across both time periods is not derived from the method of photography, but from the reason for it. People take pictures and put them in family albums because they want to remember something about their lives. They want to document the history of their lineage or the development of their progeny. They want to take an image that represents one day or a series of events in their lives and share that memory with their friends and relatives in the present day; and they want future generations to be able to see it as well. This basic human desire is the same regardless of the time period.
Where the family album begins to change, and reflect the difference between the 19th and 20th Centuries, is through the social implications of its contents. Daily life and social perceptions have evolved dramatically over the course of these two eras, and it is within the very nature of photography to capture the images and details of that life. The family album, as a collection of photographs, must naturally reflect this change. As Wright comments,

[P]hotography has provided new visions which have enabled...the transitions from the nineteenth to the late twentieth century. Science and technology, as well as culture in general, demand representational systems to promote and facilitate change...2

Just as the American family has developed along social lines, the cultural differences between the social perceptions of self, immediate family, and ancestors have presented themselves and become embodied in the family album. It is this characteristic of being what Wright calls a "representational system"3 that has morphed a collection of photographs, whether they are pasted in an old book or posted on the internet, into evidence of cultural change.
One of the most dramatic changes in the family album has come about as a result of technology. Certainly, the evolution of the camera itself has impacted the way families are able to portray themselves. The ease of simply taking a modern picture has brought the photograph from the realm of the technical professional into the reach of anyone. Naturally, the processing methodology has evolved to the point that there is no processing in the traditional sense for a digital photograph; its framer may simply look in the screen and immediately decide to accept or reject the image. In terms of the family album itself, though, perhaps the most radical impact ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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