For many, family snapshots provide a first introduction to photography – whether that’s leafing through the faded pages of a printed album or browsing a digital folder on a smartphone. Lens-based artists, from Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) to Sally Mann (b. 1951) and Joanna Piotrowska (b. 1985) have always used their close relatives as subjects. The reason for this may be pragmatic – children, parents or partners are around. But there’s something compelling, too, in how this now ubiquitous medium shapes our experiences of family life and vice versa.
Chosen Family – Less Alone Together, a group show drawn from Fotomuseum Winterthur’s collection and international loans, hones in on “contemporary photographers who delve into their own family history, examining and exploring their past.” Amongst them is Alba Zari (b. 1987), who was raised in a Christian sect, and Lindokuhle Sobekwa (b. 1995) whose sister mysteriously disappeared when he was seven, returning unexpectedly 10 years later. There’s also Diana Markosian (b. 1989), who only learned as an adult that her mother had migrated to the USA (with her kids in tow) via a Russian matchmaking agency.
For some artists, life blurs into art. Others treat photography as an investigative tool. Charlie Engman’s (b. 1987) staged portraiture examines what it means to be a “mom”, whilst Mark Morrisroe (1959-1989) focused on a family of his own making – friends and lovers tied by bonds, not blood. No matter where life takes us, everybody comes into the world in relation to others. The family, a primary social unit, exerts a powerful fascination.
Fotomuseum Winterthur | 11 June – 16 October
1. Diana Markosian, The Arrival, 2019, from the series Santa Barbara, 2019–2020 © Diana Markosian and Galerie Les filles du Calvaire.
2. Leonard Suryajaya, Hoda, 2018, from the series False Idol, 2016–2020 © Leonard Suryajaya
3. Leonard Suryajaya, Little Sissy, 2019, from the series False Idol, 2016–2020 © Leonard
4. Pixy Liao, Things We Talked About, 2013, from the series Experimental Relationship, 2007–
© Pixy Liao