Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Works from WAG's photography collection explore the ways we choose to picture 'family' Say cheese!

  • Print

You can't choose your family, but only in the narrowest, biological sense. Beyond some unavoidable facts of heredity, our families are pretty much whatever we choose to make of them, and there's no limit to the forms they can take or how they might evolve over time.

Even the most conventional arrangements are subject to evolution: kids grow up and parents get old, dynamics of power and responsibility shift, new partners and new babies come on the scene, relationships end, people die, people move away. Circumstances change and everybody improvises.

We renegotiate the terms of kinship at less decisive moments too, though. We do it every time we pose for a family photograph.

Tuck in your shirt! Get your hair out of your face! Smile! To some extent we're always "performing" familial roles -- the diligent parent, the devoted child, the creepy uncle. The presence of a camera only underscores the fact.

All in the Family is an engaging, wide-ranging exhibition of photographic works pulled from the WAG's permanent collection by Alex King that capably investigates the "family photograph" as an artifact, a convention, and a reflection of identity -- one that may or may not be entirely reliable.

Organized loosely around the themes of "shared experience," "home," "identity" and "care," the show introduces us to families of all kinds. George Hunter's Typical River Heights Family from 1945 looks about how you'd expect them to (two kids, a dog, and a well-appointed suburban living room), but we also encounter gay and lesbian couples, nervous newlyweds, single mothers and their children, groups of siblings, friends in a nursing home, an extended Métis family, and a woman who holds up her poodle with evident pride.

It's always valuable to be reminded that families come in all configurations, "traditional" or otherwise. The show additionally highlights the work of significant local artists and photographers, including Sheila Spence, Larry Glawson, Bill Eakin and Rosalie Favell, who offer particular insight into our own regional communities. As important to All in the Family as its diversity of subjects, however, is a diversity of approaches to photography, and the show does much to remind us of that medium's quirks and shortcomings.

There are posed scenes as well as candid images. Repurposed snapshots remind us of the transformation that takes place when any object or image is placed in a museum. There are works of documentary photojournalism, but there are also fabricated scenes. There's a "family portrait" taken on a film set depicting unrelated actors. Donigan Cummings' large-scale photographs showing an elderly couple in a cramped apartment are in fact meticulously staged. In a piece of accidental fiction, Claire Beaugrand-Champagne misidentifies an actual older married couple as cousins.

The thing is this: without the accompanying texts and captions, you'd never have known.

In some cases, the artifice is in the foreground, as in Diana Thorneycroft's characteristically creepy Untitled (Family self-portrait), which shows the artist sprawled a leopard-print cloth amid strewn-about dolls and mannequins sporting masks made from photos of her mother and brother. By interjecting this and other subtly (and not-so-subtly) unsettling works into the "familiar" realm of scrapbooks and photo albums, the exhibition makes room for doubt, calling on us to examine the uniqueness and mutability of our own families and how we choose to represent them.

Families are what we choose make of them, it seems, whether they're our own or not.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2013 C6

History

Updated on Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 9:56 AM CST: corrects typos, adds fact box

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Your top TV picks for this week - December 8-12

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A goose flys defensively to protect their young Wednesday near Kenaston Blvd and Waverley -See Bryksa 30 Day goose challenge- Day 16 - May 23, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy

View More Gallery Photos

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Poll

What's your take on the Jets so far this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google