Thinking about curation (again)

I set out my original thoughts about curating my late parent’s photograph albums here and (restated below).

  1. Provide a summary of my family’s life. What they did and who they were.
  2. Offer representations that show change within individuals. So viewers get an overall sense of the person from birth, through to old age.
  3. Offer a sense of cohesiveness and coherence in terms of aesthetic and form. I want the images to work together as pictures rather than just as documents.

However, while these aims are laudable many associated issues are being thrown up as I digitise the photos. For example, how should I label them? By their original labels? By new ones more meaningful to me? For example, nan Dunbar was always known as Fanny, her middle name and not her first name which was Miri. Mum was always known as Jean, her middle name and not Muriel, her first name. Dad was always known as Harry rather than Henry and so on. But this isn’t just an issue of labelling: the issue is one of identity and it has become key. Take this photo below. How should I label it? All of the following are correct:

Dad, Harry, Henry James Lawson Mansell, Man, soldier, white male, etc…


One way of addressing this would be to use the original labels. But these were made by mum and dad for their use of the photos as a reflection of our family history. So the images made sense and had meaning for them from that point of view, but not necessarily for anyone else.

Another way of addressing this is to label the images with the formal names of people. But these loses something real and intimate about the images. They are in my family album after all.

I am not sure how I will address this in terms of labels but one thing is for sure: the electronic format of presenting the images will allow me to offer multiple perspectives on the images. For example, I could categorise them in multiple ways: year, name, relationship to me, single portrait, family group etc. and then allow the viewer to choose how to view them. However because there are so many ways I could categorise them I might be better off using tags and keeping just a few categories such as decade.

I could label the individual photos by year, name, and album number as this would allow the viewer to locate the original documented image as it looks in the original family album.

Still, I don’t have to worry about this for a while as I am only just beginning to scan the images in. However as I’ve been going along lots of ideas have come to mind. For example have a look at these…

Curation a (1 of 6)Curation a (2 of 6)Curation a (3 of 6)Curation a (4 of 6)Curation a (5 of 6)Curation a (6 of 6)

The photos are of my mum and her work friends in 1946. The series got me thinking about the unwitting historical testimony the photos hold. The clothes, hair and style all seem steeped in the 1940s. I then began creating a set of of them like this below.

Curation b (1 of 6)Curation b (2 of 6)Curation b (3 of 6)Curation b (4 of 6)Curation b (5 of 6)Curation b (6 of 6)

And then I started experimenting with evocations.

Curation Experiment (1 of 3)

But maybe this set is a processing step too far…

Curation Experiment (3 of 3)

What do you think?


About anomiepete

South Londoner struggling with life, art and photography.
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9 Responses to Thinking about curation (again)

  1. Interesting article Peter. I’m going to have to face the same issue once my mum’s house is sorted. My thought would be to label it both from a factual i.e. use existing labels/captions and add your own personal connection/thoughts as well. I think that’s the way I will go. Having said that there are quite a few photos who I have no idea of who is in them so any commentary will be down to one word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • anomiepete says:

      Yes. We’re both in the same boat Richard. Did your dad die a long time before your mum?

      Do you mean that you will add your comments tot he file name itself. I’m less worried about actual file names now because of the power of the digital allowing me to sort them into multiples.

      I’m really enjoying the process as I am seeing a story unfold in a way I haven’t previously. When you get going with the archive do drop me an email to alert me as I’d like to follow it.



      • Sorry for the lack of response Pete not looked at Blogs (mine and other peoples) for a while! Dad died some 27 years ago so quite a bit gap. I think where possible i will use the comments as the file name. Iits going to be a while before i start the archive and one thing I need to do first is get a decent scanner for photos, negs and slides. I’ll keep you posted.


        Liked by 1 person

  2. Catherine says:

    I’ve been following you closely on this as I’ll be working on my own archive. I’ve only scanned a a few so far and I’ve been using some of the photographs to create narratives. they were never in an album so I don’t have that problem regarding how they were originally put together which means I can ‘make’ stories. I’ve been thinking that I need to be clear when I’m fictionalising though. So many issues to think of before I even start.
    It’s wonderful to see those hairstyles. I’m wondering if girls who went around together adopted the same hairstyles – just a thought on typologies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • anomiepete says:

      I hope you will publish your albums Catherine. I’m a long long way from generating much that’s useful or interesting yet as the job of photographing the pages and scanning the images will probably take me to next summer….. Good point about the hairstyles.


      • Catherine says:

        Strange but, thinking about this, I remembered there was a craze for having a DA haircut amongst the girls and then for bleaching just a front lock of hair with hydrogen peroxide I think. My hair was just about black so the lock went a reddish colour although not particularly obvious. In later years my younger son and my daughter used something called Sun-In that gradually turned their hair a straw blonde when they went out in the sun!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Something I’ve been working on too. I dithered around about the labelling, and then decided to put the names which were on the backs of the photos. Not much use though when it says, Joan, Heather and me. In that case I put their given name. I have found that as I cross-reference them with the family tree on, it is often easier to label the women by their maiden names, to keep some sort of continuity. But there’s a whole different level you can take it to, if looking from a curatorial point of view.

    On a different tack, I was interested to see what you said about family photos as historical testimony. I’ve just read a short piece by Eric Kim on the Japanese photographer Araki, and one of his points really stuck in my mind from it. – Today’s snapshots are tomorrow’s history and nostalgia. Shoot the things you will want your children and grandchildren to remember in 30 years time.
    When one thinks about it, most photographs were never taken with that thought in mind, and it has really given me some food for thought. The link to the article is here. It is NSFW, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • anomiepete says:

      Gosh. There is so much here. I think I’m going to keep my ancestry research separate from this project. It’s just too much! As I am scanning I see new things in the photos or in between them like the hairstyles so will just see where the scanning takes me. A lot in that article resonated though and I’m particularly interested in seeing the unseen in the albums by focus sing on the stuff that slipped in the frame but wast the point of it. Are you blogging about your ancestry?


  4. No, Pete. I’m not sure how much there is to say about it as yet, though I am using it in my Identity & Place blog. As you say, there is so much potential in a good sized family archive. Maybe I will come back to it when I have learned more, later on in the course.

    Liked by 1 person

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