American Family Portraits

The JFKI library presented photographs of American families from about 1945-1970. They were part of photographic estates which had been acquired by the institute to investigate popular photography in the era immediately after WWII. This era was marked by the outstanding success of the “Kodachrome” transparency film which made color images available to the wider population at relatively low cost. Countless family chronicles have been produced in this medium of analog film before the digital photography sparked another media revolution.

The photos focus on two families in particular - the Bauer- and the Jones-family. The former has its home in Colorado on a farm and we see primarily images of a reunion of the extended family (which probably took place once a year) – mostly in form of portraits.

The images of the Jones-family cover more themes. It was possible to acquire the complete photographic estate of the family. We see the family aging, celebrating, but also living through crisis (when the father was hospitalized). We see them in the cottage in the countryside, with the dog in their urban neighborhood and while they travel.

The exhibited photographs point to a change in the representation of the family – from a very much formal representation using portraits in a kind of semi-professional practice which depicted the family as something to present to the outside world ( a kind of “male” practice of family photography) to a practice that more and more focused on the inner life of the family with its emotional highlights, but also crises (a rather “female” practice of family photography).