Difficult Images: A Family’s Hidden Photographs of Grief and Mourning

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Photography and Culture, 2020, 13, (1), pp. 3-27
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© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Family albums are filled with photographs celebrating the happy times. These represent the high points in life, such as birthdays, holidays, and weddings as well as ordinary moments of domestic life. But what of more difficult images? Rarely included in the family album are photographs of funerals, deaths, and expressions of grief. Consequently, the focus of this article is a private collection of difficult photographs, hidden from view and left out of the family archive; the images unmistakably depict a family deep in mourning. Taken in 1975 at a funeral and burial, the family is pictured grieving their loss in an unusually public way. These images offer a rare opportunity to examine the representation of intimate and difficult emotions in private photographs, while asking questions about the function of the family archive. Using Jacques Derrida’s reflections on death, mourning, and the archive, as well as Roland Barthes’ observations in Camera Lucida, I have argued for difficult images to be included and shared in the family album. Here I maintain that difficult images depicting difficult emotions offer an opportunity to enhance photography’s storytelling capacity in the inter-generational experience of family. This examination is further contextualized alongside photography’s longstanding connection to death.
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