Family, we are told, over and over again, is the saving grace that makes life worthwhile. But what is a family? The time is long past, if it ever really existed, that family meant only a blood-tied grouping of mother, father, brother, and sister, dressed in Sunday best for a snapshot at a local park or event, gathered around the dinner table, or meetings of extended relatives a few times a year on special family occasions. I think family is more about a feeling of oneness with other people, seeing a resemblance of one’s physical, intellectual and emotional aspects.
This photographic project is about people, who have formed a collective by living in a shared space. By addressing the double aspect of family photographs, we will see that they have a particular status as works of a historic moment – a moment in time of togetherness by the act of gathering. Yet at the same time they serve a documentary purpose for they take on their significance by virtue of presenting the content of a collectivity, would it be blood-related or clannish. This raises questions about the nature of a photographic experience for a group gathering. In particular, how are those groups formed? What is the reason that they are sharing a living space together? I propose that what we see in some family photographs involves our visual construct of space and time, and bears upon our perception of the qualities of essential familial gatherings. To demonstrate this, I offer a case study of group photographs from Vilnius, Lithuania.
An answer to my initial question: How do strangers constitute temporary family collectivities? It could be analysed in various contexts, which themselves are in continuous flux.
Economical reasons, earlier ties or kinship built through friends are a rather common aspect in building collectivities. Rationality also captures a way of thinking that ordinary people being part of a web of connectedness where their concept of self, and self-worth, is tied into how they behave towards significant others.
Photographs don’t simply reflect, but may construct an event as photo-worthy and memorable (Sontag 2002:142). Having the picture as a mnemonic ensures that the occasion is remembered. The making of these memorable celebrations of togetherness works reciprocally: the very presence of a camera, and the act of picture taking, signals to the participants that the occasion is photo-worthy and memory-worthy. That is why I think, that family photography is important in contemporary collectivities.