A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you, the less you know.
-Diane Arbus-Gathering the Family
In May of 1976, I took a snapshot of my neighbor, Edith Brock, on the front porch of Cheney-Allard Convalescent Home in the Centralville section of Lowell. She was ninety-two years old. I knew very little about her but each time I look at the photograph, I think of how her voice cracked like gravel as she told her stories, and I remember her deep silences. She died the following winter. At the time, I did not know that I would have a career in photography. The image of Edith made me know that I wanted to become very good at photographing the people I care about and that a simple snapshot could be far more compelling than the most studied portrait.
Several years ago I began working with my family's old photographs, gathering them around me, copying them, decorating with them, enjoying them. Of course, I showed
them to anyone with a minute, and I saw that many people were genuinely moved by the images. The snapshots, in particular, triggered memories. People easily told stories that illustrated their sense of kinship with the subjects in the photographs. The “family” of snapshots grew as friends and clients contributed their favorite images. I also purchased anonymous albums and forgotten boxes of prints and negatives and I still continue to adopt any photographs that need a willing home.
Snapshots are made to be shared and cherished, and so we bring you The Extended Family. If you enjoy these images and leave the Patrick J. Mogan Cultural Center with an enhanced regard for the keeping of family photographic collections, then the exhibit will have met its purpose. -Peg Shanahan-
About the Exhibit
The Extended Family is a collection of snapshots. Most of the photographs exhibited were taken by amateur photographers - the family shutterbug, in particular. They are a very small part of the trillions of photographs taken since the first hand-held camera was patented by George Eastman in 1885.
The snapshot is of particular interest as a recording of everyday life. Because snapshots are certainly not rare, and often unidentified when found, they are the humblest of what could be considered documentary photographs. They are images of who we are and how we live - as much as can be shown in that fragment of a second that is frozen when the shutter blinks.
In The Extended Family all but a few photographs are dated before 1965 because the patina of age makes the photograph more appealing. Anonymous photographs inhabit equal space with those that are known because they are adoptable. Some of the captions were copied directly from the back of the photograph.
Given enough time, many photographs do acquire an aura. For while paintings or poems do not get better, more attractive, simply because they are older, all photographs are interesting as well as attractive if they are old enough. It is not altogether wrong to say that there is no such thing as a bad photograph - only less interesting, less relevant, less mysterious ones. -Susan Sontag-
If I were to print a book of snapshots, I would do it in its own spirit. On the front page would be one snapshot, and in the inside pages would be loosely distributed images, without introduction, without philosophy, without explanations, without captions, so that for once people would be free to discover for themselves without being
Through photographs each family constructs a portrait chronicle of itself... It hardly matters what activities are being photographed as long as photographs get taken and are cherished. Photography becomes a rite of family life just when... the very institution of the family starts undergoing radical surgery. As ... the nuclear family was being carved out of a much larger family aggregate, photography came along to memorialize, to restate symbolically, the imperiled continuity and vanishing extendedness of family life... A family's photograph album is generally about the extended family - and, often is all that remains of it. -Susan Sontag-
Chelmsford Art Society
Project Director /Exhibit Designer: Margaret Shanahan Project Assistant: Marilyn Houston