Share in our discoveries across three projects as we work to provide the first intellectual access to our hidden treasures relating to work and labor in early 20th Century New England, the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair and its period, and Boston local TV news.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Pondering the Aboutness of Home Movies

Home movies are about families, right? So the main subject heading for them would have to be “Families.” But working with these two collections of home movies, I’m experiencing the different shadings that can exist in images made for a similar purpose.

My Photographic Archiving class is currently reading Susan Sontag’s essay collection On Photography. In it, Sontag writes: “Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself—a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” Certainly home movies do the same thing. Both of the families whose films I’ve been looking at, the Whipples and the Birds, have succeeded in creating portrait-chronicles.

It’s been challenging to think about choosing a single term to describe each collection as a whole, since there are variations of settings and activities within them. Whereas, upon the evidence of the film images, the Birds’ suburban existence seems circumscribed within an area not far from their home, the Whipples’ is much more expansive. The Bird footage, with its birthday parties and backyard baton-twirling, fits quite cozily into the heading “Families,” perhaps with an addition of “Manners and customs.” But for the Whipples, who spend their summers on a 4000-acre estate, and much of the rest of their time at the beach or on a yacht, my gut leans toward “Recreation” as a heading at least equal to “Families.” I can’t help thinking of them as Kennedyesque in their energy and range of pursuits. Still, I’m not saying they lavish any less attention on their kids, or on portraying the closeness of their family, than the Birds do. But I think researchers who are looking for images of recreation during the late 1920s would find some great material in the Whipple Family collection.

I guess I’m just saying that sometimes I seize up and wonder how judgmental I’m supposed to be about the people in the movies. Well, this is what we’re supposed to be doing, describing the films in an authoritative way. Anyway, I’m not privy to their “real” lives or selves—just what happened when they decided to turn the camera on.


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