There was always something cringeworthy about family snaps. As Philip Larkin says in Lines On A Young Lady’s Photograph Album ‘But o, photography! as no art is, / Faithful and disappointing! that records / Dull days as dull, and hold-it smiles as frauds’. Larkin’s not quite got it. Yes, the camera recorded the dull day as dull but, unaccustomed as we were to that camera, the rictus of the smiles and the awkwardnesses of our bodies were created, and not simply recorded, by it. I’ve never actually seen the photo but my brother has described a piece of war zone photojournalism in which a mother carries the body of her child across a bullet-pinged street. She spots the camera and, instinctively, flashes Larkin’s hold-it smile.
Photographers like Nan Goldin changed the way that the establishment thought about photography. She obsessively documents her friends using available light and basic…
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