What You’ll See at the MAM’s ‘Family Pictures’ Exhibit

The ‘Family Pictures’ exhibit seeks out the overlooked moments in familial life. It’s been fittingly tucked into the basement of the Milwaukee Art Museum, out of immediate sight, but carries a striking impact for those willing to look.

Many of the photographs in the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Family Pictures exhibit don’t appear particularly “artful” at first glance.

They look like the kind of images that might get shared on Facebook or double-tapped on Instagram, but are seldom seen in a fine art museum. But by placing hundreds of these moments next to each other, Curator Lisa Sutcliffe manages to depict the trends of American family life through the lens of a Kodak, and through the lens of black photographers’ definitions of family.

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Family Pictures

At the Milwaukee Art Museum through Jan. 20, 2019 in the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts (lower level)[/alert]

Family Pictures, which was originally organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, juxtaposes joyous family photos (like Carrie Mae Weems’s canvas of 50-plus people being conducted into frame by an uncle for a family reunion souvenir photo) with moments of vulnerability and intimacy (like nude portraits from Brooklyn-based John Edmonds).

As the MAM describes it, “Family Pictures explores the ways in which black photographers and artists have portrayed a range of familial relationships, from blood relatives to close-knit neighborhoods to queer communities.”

Throughout the exhibit, we’re reminded of the photos that Mom still hangs on her wall, and also the ones you save hidden away. We’re reminded that kids aren’t always good at looking at the camera, that the cameraperson usually isn’t ready when somebody laughs and Grandma isn’t always smiling while she smokes her Pall Malls.

These juxtapositions are best established through Lyle Ashton Harris’s “The Ektachrome Archives,” which premiered in São Paolo in 2016.

In a smallish, underlit room in a corner of the Herzfeld Center for Photography and Media Arts, three projectors click through sequences that include beautifully balanced compositions of grown men bathing, cheery wedding guests, blurry figures frozen as they put on t-shirts, men in lipstick, a tasteful picture of a woman walking nude on a beach, and still frames of clothing drying on a clothesline.

“The Ektachrome Archives,” along with the rest of Family Pictures, reflect what our lives look like when we aren’t looking.


DON’T MISS: Conversations

DON’T MISS: Take your own family pictures

A photo-taking station is set up in the atrium outside the gallery, encouraging museum visitors to take pictures and share them on Instagram or Twitter.



Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan