Beyond The Family album – A personal Take

At the Tate Gallery Exhibition, Women in Revolt, which celebrates 20 years of of feminist art and Activism in the UK between 1970 and 1990, I was reminded of the influence that some of the photographers had on my own personal work, especially that of the late Jo Spence whose project Beyond the Family Album particularly resonated with me.

As I understand it, one of Spence’s motivations was to make representations of what tends to be taboo or omitted from the idealised selection displayed in family albums. Family albums were still a feature of my generation’s upbringing and were usually ‘curated’ to show happy events and celebrations and to show people at their best.

One could argue that since the advent of social media, the public disclosure of what had hitherto been considered private, personal information is in some ways an extension of the concept of opening up the boundaries of self-representation. Posting the minutiae of daily life has lead to what many consider oversharing.

Bearing the risk of oversharing in mind, here are some recent images influenced by Jo Spence’s narrative. These photographs try to go beyond the standard themes of the family album genre, using my mother’s personal artefacts as inspiration .

Above, my 86 year old mother’s slippers, taken in 2023. It’s a still life; her golden mules on her pink fitted carpet. My feelings about this oscillate between sadness and acceptance. At first I was upset and rather judgemental at seeing how worn out they were, as if they somehow represented a neglectful decline from a once glamorous existence. I tried to tell her nicely about them, using a health and safety argument, but she immediately retorted “so what, they’re comfortable”. So I tried to see it from her point of view – slippers are supposed to be comfortable, aren’t they?

The next few images are also recent photographs from a project documenting my mother. Below, a display with empty perfume bottles on the window sill of her bathroom, followed by a still life featuring a glass filled with stones collected from her travels, topped with a doily and net flower:.

Above, my mum at her dressing table a few months ago. This photo is in many ways an update of one taken several decades ago which also features in my post Woman at a Dressing Table:

Next, some more images from my archives. In the image below my late father is captured during his weekly Sunday ritual of washing the car,. I think the photo dates from some time in the 1980s.

My mum looking at her old personal album – circa 1990

The above image was taken in the early 1990s and is a self-portrait and souvenir of my time breastfeeding. I can’t remember exactly how I took it but the final image was shot off a TV monitor.

More recently, a close up details of my husband Stephen taken whilst in intensive care in hospital following a serious cycling accident in May 2023:

And finally an experimental self portrait using imagery that emerged during psychotherapy and which was also used as a basis for a painting:

6 thoughts on “Beyond The Family album – A personal Take”

  1. I especially loved the double photo of your mother at her dressing table (where all the magic took place) with yourself in the background. It brought back vivid memories of my mother at her dressing table and how l took every opportunity to sneak in to exploring all the mysterious boxes of creams and powders, whenever possible. Watching my mother meticulously painting her eyebrows with an elegant arch – I can almost smell the unique smell of the Max Factor face powder.

    It’s possibly why we both love dressing up a legacy from having glamorous mothers.
    I’ve always been a great lover of family photos as l’m the family photo hoarder of ours.
    So l’ve always enjoyed and appreciated you sharing yours Mish xxx

    • Thank you so much for this. Yes, I wonder how much our own personal style is a legacy from our glam mums? Love that description of you watching your mother painting her eyebrows with an elegant arch …

  2. I still remember quite vividly, being with your mum in your parents’ bedroom in Stamford Hill.
    The dressing table had a large bottle of Chanel no 5 on it. I was fascinated by it. Your parents were newlyweds and I must have been about seven.

    • Interesting; I don’t remember their bedroom there at all but I have a horrible feeling that I actually accidentally knocked over her bottle of Chanel no.5 at her dressing table in Finchley! I “inherited” her old Stamford Hill dressing table and wardrobe and had that furniture till I left home …

    • Sandra, I remember Benny D and Dalia from the 70s. My dad always washed his car on a Sunday as well.


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