"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one." — British author Jane Howard
Self-portrait with family in SUV, Michigan, 2007 | Julie Mack | (James N. Krebs Purchase Fund for 21st Century Photography / Julie Mack / Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Jimmy Paulette and Tabboo! in the bathroom, NYC, 1991 | Nan Goldin | (Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography / Nan Goldin / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Though the definition varies wildly, family is universal. Perhaps this is why the family is such a consistent source of inspiration for artists.
This December, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, celebrates this universal muse with (un)expected families, an exhibit of more than 80 photographs spanning more than 150 years.
"Almost as soon as exposure times became short enough to make portraiture feasible, photographers have been drawn to capture likenesses of loved ones," said Karen Haas, the MFA's Lane Curator of Photographs. "Perhaps that power to freeze a moment in time is what explains why family photographs are so often described as the first thing one would save from a burning building."
Featuring some of the most iconic photographers of the modern era — from Gordon Parks to Nan Golden — the exhibit depicts a wide range of relationships — from twins to nuns to students — that beautifully capture the myriad forms family can take.
In exposing the intimacies of other people's families, the exhibit acts as a mirror, forcing the viewer to search the works for the emotional nuances — the baggage, the inside jokes — that define her own familial bonds.
Take a moment to reflect on your family with this emotionally charged selection of photographs from the exhibit.
Ethel Shariff in Chicago, 1963 | Gordon Parks | (Gift of Gus and Arlette Kayafas in honor of Karen E. Haas / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Nayla, Ted, Alexandra, Nick, March 30, 1995, 1995 | Elsa Dorfman | (Gift of Elsa Dorfman in memory of Dorothy Glaser / Elsa Dorfman, 2013, all rights reserved / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Twins at WDIA, Memphis, about 1948 | Ernest C. Withers | (Sophie M. Friedman Fund / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Felix and his Wife, Buffalo, from the series Lower West Side Revisited, 1992 | Milton Rogovin | (Gift of Denise Jarvinen and Pierre Cremieux / Milton Rogovin, Copyright 1952-2002 / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Thanksgiving, 1992 | Tina Barney | (Contemporary Curator’s Fund, including funds donated by Barbara and Thomas Lee / Tina Barney / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Mr. and Mrs. Steve Mills, Pilgrim Theatre, Boston, 1973 | Roswell Angier | (Polaroid Foundation Purchase Fund, reproduced with permission / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Hutterite Classroom, Gildford, MT, 2005 | Christopher Churchill | (Gift of Elisa Fredrickson / Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)