The album tells us stories. Perhaps the studious child, curled up with a book in the corner of the frame of an old black and white photo at the start of the album, reappears in a graduation photo towards the end. Perhaps the mother-to-be is found again, as we turn the pages, with two toddlers and a less convincing smile. The walk-up flat in the background becomes a three-bedroom semi, and later acquires a roof-light and a downstairs extension, or the semi is exchanged for a studio apartment with a care assistant down the hall. Some faces recur throughout the book, older but still recognisable; we see others for a few pages, and then no more.
Each snap tells us something, but we learn more from the sequence of photographs, and more still from the connections we make between the people shown in them…. The whole album provides a picture that is more than the sum of the individual pictures, more than we would get from, say, a random collection of photos from different families in successive decades of the century. The family album tells about the complex pattern of continuity and change that make up the lives of individuals and households. (Buck and others, 1994, p 10)
‘The family’ is a subject of enormous academic, political and popular interest. It is a central feature of most people’s lives, the framework within which other relationships, activities and events take place. Families have changed hugely during the past generation: not only in the formal demographics of marriage, cohabitation and childbearing, but also in the social and economic relationships between men and women, and between adults and children.
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