Framing The World Through My Photographs

Val Williams – Whos looking at the family

Who’s looking at the family –notes Barbican Art Gallery (May 1994)

Williams, V. (1994) Who’s looking at the family?. United Kingdom: London : Barbican Art Gallery, 1994.

  • Williams says that we “flick through our memories of images of the family , we alight common visions: a birthday, a wedding, a holiday long gone. (Williams 1994, 12)
  • “ Images are counjured up like genies: you rub the lamp of memory and there they are, to grant wishes. Confronted by these wilful spirits, we ask perhaps for elegy, or for revision, for reminders of the past, or even for forgetfulness.” (Williams 1994, 13)  –  this analogy , defines how I think of my family albums, I open then up like a genie in a lamp, I reignite myself with memories in these images.
  • “From the beginning of photography, the family has been a focus of attention. From the mirrored surfaces of a daguerreotype, victorian families gaze out at us, conscious perhaps of their confrontation with this new and marvellous tool of the camera. Their sense of posterity is acute. Through to milky tones of 19th century albmen prints, we can decipher family groups gathered outside majestic homes, demonstrating thie wealth and circumstance.”(Williams 1994, 13)
  • “As an understanding of photographic technology increased, photography gradually became available to a wider number, and the snapshot elbowed its populist way onto the cultural and social agenda, making representation available, if still not to everybody, to a rapidly growing group of people” (Williams 1994, 13)
  • “Snapshot photography seemingly so open and so casual, operates by its own clearly delineated rules, and families across the western world use it to create a favourable reflection of domestic life. The stern gazes of the Victorians replaced by an infallible smile.”(Williams 1994, 13)
  • “Family snapshots mirror family life as it ought to be or rather what we wish it to be.”
  • “Photography is a responsive medium and photographers, reflecting the confusions of our times, began to portray the family in a multitude of ways.”(Williams 1994, 13)


Val Williams has made me think about how I view and take images. I hadn’t thought of snapshot photography in the family album form running along to rules … after looking through my own photo albums it was clear to see that this has always been the case, the need to present family in the best way. Like Patricia Holland , Williams recognised the pattern in showing the family events with in an album , a common feature in many a persons family album.

Reference – Williams, V., Carol Brown and  Brigitte Lardinois (1994) Who’s looking at the family?. United Kingdom: London : Barbican Art Gallery, 1994.


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This entry was posted on December 19, 2014 by in 350MC - photography in context.
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