Picturing the family
Picturing the family

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Picturing the family

Idealisation

If we look at the surprisingly small range of items commonly used as accessories we notice that they, too, confer prestige by association or continue the limited positive characterization. Children are often pictured with prestigious, manufactured toys. Do you remember Walter Eastwood's classy tricycle in Image 16? Boys hold whips or hoops suggestive of street games and the outside world; girls clutch dolls or baskets of flowers which evoke the domestic realm.

The book probably appears more frequently than any other item. It is used to imply education at a time when many people were illiterate.

Image 33 Photographer/Painter: Alfred Peplow, Hastings. Subject: Three-quarter length seated female, c.1890.

A photograph album (as in Image 33) frequently takes the place of the book. The purpose-designed album with apertures to display the photographs appeared on the market together with the carte de visite in the early 1860s. With its tooled leather covers, metal clasp and gilt edgings, the album was designed to imitate the appearance of the Victorian family bible.

Activity 16

Can you think why the photograph album should be designed to resemble the family bible?

Answer

The Victorians often recorded family births, marriages and deaths in the front of their bibles. One contemporary commentator predicted that the family album ‘will supersede the first leaf of the Family Bible’ and become ‘an illustrated book of genealogy’ (Anon, 1861, pp.341–2).

The imitation and evocation of bibles, hymnals and other books used in Christian worship suggests that photography was attempting to position itself as a force for good in society. In its early years, photography was promoted as a refining and improving influence within the family.

On a more worldly level, it placed albums in the luxury class of household possessions which would in turn help establish the status of photography as an honourable and respectable occupation.

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