One year the school photographer, instead of asking us to say “cheese”, asked us to say “sausages.”
The result was I looked like a fish about to suck in a dragonfly.
That picture didn’t make it onto the living room wall.
Plenty others did, however. Apart from the school pictures, there were photos of my grandparents (one of each set), my uncle, my parents’ wedding and several of my brother dancing.
Our home was a curation: “Here is the family.”
Later, after I had left for university, my father took up watercolours – and he is prolific. There are coastlines and pastorals, churches and trees, Suffolk and Canada. Many of these pictures were hung, expanding from living room to dining room, then guest bedroom and stairwell.
The watercolour factory kept churning them out, and soon there was an archive of works in the shed that didn’t quite make the cut for exhibition in the main gallery.
Wall-space, after all, is limited. Which means decisions must be made – hard, artistic choices. Do we replace a ballet photo with a watercolour? What if uncle is relegated from living room to hallway?
The exhibition would subtly change and yet the theme was always the same: This is us.
As I write this, I’m sitting in my own living room, laptop on knee. And as I look around, I notice there are zero family pictures. Instead, there’s a photograph of a woman holding a tray of burnt cookies, an oil painting of a road and trees, and a picture of a flooded town.
I wonder if guests notice that instead of nieces and nephews, parents and aunts, there’s a photograph of a woman with a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Is family so unimportant that I relegate them to a dusty album? Or is my curatorial mandate simply different?
Are these pictures what I want to see – or how I want to be seen?