“Family photographs are a primary way we encounter photography,” says Dhyandra Lawson, curator of the upcoming exhibition Family Album. “We take family pictures, pose for them, share, and return to them. Yet, we may overlook their potential to reveal our interior and social worlds.” The humble family snapshot—taken on the fly at birthdays and holidays and capturing fleeting moments to be revisited again and again—allows resistance of often dehumanizing portrayals of people of color in the media. Advancements in the 20th century made compact cameras and film more accessible to American families, creating an opportunity for people of color to shape their own image.
Family Album contextualizes the promise of photography for people of color today. The exhibition presents the work of contemporary artists of color who examine themselves and history through the visual language of family photographs. Drawing from their personal archives, or manipulating vernacular aesthetics, they bring attention to social issues like racial segregation and police brutality and emphasize the importance of family and community. On view in LACMA’s Charles White Elementary School Gallery, Family Album also seeks to provoke conversations with students about their own family histories.
The exhibition features a focused presentation of new work by Janna Ireland and Danielle Bowman, two artists who share meaningful connections to Los Angeles. Straddling candid and staged moments, the work of these artists revels in the beauty of everyday life. Bowman captures historically Black neighborhoods such as Inglewood and Baldwin Hills, where she was raised, and Brooklyn, where she resides now. Her work destabilizes visual experience by creating a tension between specificity and abstraction—her subjects’ faces are obscured, yet objects are sharp, as in The Vision (Garage) (2021), a portrait of the artist’s grandfather. Ireland’s photographs, meanwhile, blur distinctions between confession and fiction, documentation and performance. In a series made over the past decade, she photographed herself and her family inhabiting an apparent California wonderland. Posing as wife and mother, Ireland interrogates how familial roles are performed for the camera.
Family Album presents work drawn primarily from LACMA’s permanent collection by 24 artists including Germane Barnes, Mark Bradford, Micaiah Carter, Tony Cokes, Genevieve Gaignard, Sandra de la Loza, Leslie Hewitt, Star Montana, and Zora Murff. Many of the artists are from Los Angeles, and the exhibition will include a suite of works by Bradford, Cokes, and Ireland which examine the legacy of segregation laws in the city. Ireland and Cokes explore the architecture of Paul Revere Williams, the pioneering Black architect who was prohibited from living in the Los Angeles suburbs where he designed thousands of structures, while Bradford’s video Dancing in the Street investigates the history of the 1965 Watts uprising. Additional work is organized around themes including neighborhood and community and the material aspects of home.
Below, take a peek at some highlights from Family Album: Dannielle Bowman, Janna Ireland, and Contemporary Works from LACMA before it opens at Charles White Elementary School on November 19.