G.K. Chesterton once wrote that the best way to test our compassion for our fellow human beings would be to slide down the chimney into a house at random, “and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.”
The families we grow up with tend to try our patience, while the family units we find ourselves in later in life, whether by choice or circumstance, inspire different but often complex emotions. An exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, “(un)expected families,” features work by several photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries who have various family structures. The 80 photos on view vary in style and subject, but all share common themes of loyalty, affection, romantic love and camaraderie.
The show includes images by some of the many photographers who have returned time and again to photographing their own families. These include Julie Mack, whose self-portrait with her family wittily captures familial tension. Other photographers capture the bonds between their portrait subjects. Nicholas Nixon, known for photographing his wife and her sisters for decades, is here represented by his portraits of parents with their children and family mementos. Dorothea Lange, for example, shows the mother in a migrant family with her kids.
What about the kinship formed among people brought together by circumstance? Louie Palu’s photo of a Marine in Afghanistan is a portrait of war, but in the context of the “(un)expected families” show, we are reminded of the company he supports in the field. Gordon Parks’s image of a woman surrounded by members of her mosque show the kinship that’s created within a faith community. Nan Goldin takes viewers inside a close-knit circle of friends, exploring the loyalty that forms between those who find themselves marginalized by society.
The exhibition, curated by Karen Haas, also includes vernacular images pulled from family albums and snapshot collections.
—Holly Stuart Hughes
through June 17, 2018
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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