Valotetut elämät: Perhevalokuvan lajityyppiä pohtivat tilateokset dialogissa katsojien kanssa

Translated title of the contribution: EXPOSED LIVES : Dialogues between Viewers and Installations Examining the Genre of Family Photography

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The present study is basic research on visual communication in art education. On the theoretical level, it examines the typical features and use of the genre of family photography as well as the origins and development of the genre in light of earlier research and other literature. Data collection uses an experimental method that draws on four installations, or visual-pedagogical productions, designed on the basis of the theoretical framework. This approach set up a dialogue between the productions and the viewers, whose open responses were then studied to ascertain the kind of dialogue produced in the encounters. The dialogues were also examined using a model I have developed for analysing the genre of family photography.

I define family photographs as personal photographs that are usually kept in the home and have been taken for ordinary private use. These may be taken by professional photographers, snapped by family members themselves or received from others, the last two categories being known as vernacular photographs. I subdivide the genre into professional photographs and amateur snapshots. The former normally idealise their subject, while the latter may also represent the person realistically or demystify him/her. The subjects are generally people that have a close relationship to the photographer, particularly children. The settings in which family photographs are taken centre on children’s development, achievements, important family events, holidays and celebrations.

Three crucial events can be identified in the development of the family photograph as a genre. The first was the introduction of visit card photography in 1854, the second the invention of the box camera in 1888, and the third the advent of mass photography after the Second World War. The latest turning point – the rise of digital photography – falls outside the scope of the present study.

The analysis proceeds from the communication event as the crucial element of the genre. Other powerful influences are the camera and the mechanically generated essence of photographic reality. The development of technology and economic factors have had a strong influence on who has been able to afford photographs and/or a camera, as well as on where, how and what kinds of photographs can be produced. Other factors affecting the genre are social norms, such as learned models, laws and other restrictions on photography; social or personal reasons for obtaining photographs, i.e., the need to take pictures; the visual culture, in particular advertising and photography conventions; and the contemporary concept of the photographed subject.

Both professional photographs and amateur snapshots strive for unity, interaction, identity-building or documentation. The genre is also used and constructed in public: in photographic therapy, as a tool in scientific research, and in education. Magazine pictures, especially in advertising, benefit from the aesthetics of snapshots and family idylls. In art photography, countercultural appeal comes into play when conventions of the genre are challenged.

My installations brought the private photographs into public places, which evoked a positive response. This was considered a brave approach; it showed people the things we have in common and made the invisible daily life of women visible. The installations awakened viewers’ memories and helped them to empathise with the works. Some disapproved of the works, as the experience was perplexing and made them feel like they were peeping in on others’ lives. In particular, my showing photographs of nude people was considered arrogant.

The dialogues between the viewers and the themes of the works included many ideas concerning family photographs. The ability of photographs to halt time and document important moments was mentioned. Photographs were said to make changes visible, but the changes in people were questioned. The importance of childhood for people’s lives was stressed. Many viewers said that photographs help in keeping dead people present and (even a stranger’s) photographs brought back memories. Attention was often directed to my making daily life visible, which was considered important: one should value daily life and stop photographing only life’s best moments.

The installations stimulated some viewers to consider their photographic habits or inspired them to use their photographs in a new way. Some people started to ponder the truth of a photograph or the theme of happiness in family photography. Many viewers focused their responses on the course of their lives, their values or other fundamental questions. People appreciated the people close to them as well as feelings and emotions. The viewers identified with some of the themes of the installations: difficulties in growing up, the everyday life of a mother and her multiple roles, and building one’s identity. Photographs were seen as a tool in uniting one’s identity/memories, but memory work was also regarded as something potentially traumatising.

The research yields tools for using family photographs in art education. Drawing on the factors identified as influencing family photography, I have designed a model to guide future research on the genre.
Translated title of the contributionEXPOSED LIVES : Dialogues between Viewers and Installations Examining the Genre of Family Photography
Original languageFinnish
QualificationDoctor of Arts
Awarding Institution
  • Hautala-Hirvioja, Tuija, Supervisor
Award date5 Feb 2005
Place of PublicationRovaniemi
Print ISBNs951-634-957-9
Electronic ISBNs978-952-484-286-0
Publication statusPublished - 2005
MoEC publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)


  • visual communication
  • photography
  • family
  • home
  • genre
  • private
  • public
  • identity
  • visual-pedagogical production
  • dialogue
  • response
  • folk tradition
  • popular culture

Field of science

  • Visual arts and design


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