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Complicating the Family Album

When viewing two similar objects next to one another, humans begin to make comparisons: what are the differences, what are the similarities? By capturing an image of something or someone in a photograph, and placing that image next to another photograph, the artist creates a narrative or relationship between the images to connect them. Artists Leigh Ledare and Lorraine O’Grady, through separate bodies of work (Double Bind, and Nefertiti/Devonia), reshape the concept of a family album through the collection and placement of images and photographs. Their work becomes family albums that address uncomfortable subject matter that is not traditionally included in family albums. Both Ledare and O’Grady point to rivalry in their work, but in larger sense these bodies of work point to the concept of a family album that shows the ugly underbelly of being part of a family. Often times family albums commemorate the happy times and successes—but is there room in the album for divorce, estrangement, failure, loss, and grief? These are parts of the experience of family as well.

In Double Bind the images invite questions of rivalry between the ex-husband (Ledare) and the current husband (Adam Fedderly) of Meghan (Adam Fedderly) who is the subject of the images. Photographs taken of Meghan at the same location (a remote cabin) on two separate trips alone with each man, invite questions of envy on the part of the ex-husband, or competition by the current husband. Ledare coaxes these ideas of rivalry by how he frames the work; he is telling his viewers that he took the first set of images of his ex-wife Meghan and that the second set of images were taken by Meghan’s new husband Adam Fedderly. Ledare is quick to point out that Meghan got married to Adam between these two trips. The story and images quickly form a love triangle, an idea that Ledare further complicates by adding appropriated images to play off of stereotypes around sexuality.

Lorraine O’Grady in her work Nefertiti/ Devonia Evangeline addresses the theme of rivalry by placing two photographic images next to each other as well. In this case it is the photograph of her deceased older sister Devonia Evangeline placed next to a photograph of a sculpture of Egyptian royal Nefertiti. Lorraine then places photographs of herself next to photographs of Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnedjmet. The historical rivalry between the royal sisters, Nefertiti and Mutnedjet, becomes a way for O’Grady to illustrate her own rivalry between her and her sister.

The album above is my own response to the artwork of Ledare and O’Grady, through images that I have photographed, painted, and appropriated, to illustrate another difficult experience of being part of a family. These images contrast the experiences of miscarriage and fertility issues, with the amazing experience of becoming a parent. Becoming a parent does not erase the pain from lost pregnancies, regardless of the richness that parenthood brings to one’s life. This is not an image of emotional resolution, though there are certainly joyful moments included in it.

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