This collection of photographs comes in 11 identical volumes, and is just shy of 500 images. They begin in August 1931 and end in May 1938. The story begins with a couple on a camping holiday in St David’s, Wales. They were touring around in a Riley Nine motorcar. Apart from these first few pages, the collection is dedicated to two children, Adrian and Rosemary. They lived in Sloane Avenue, London SW3, and spent family time in Richmond Park.
Over the years, they visited Boscombe in Dorset; Strete in Devon; Prah Sands and St Just in Cornwall; Ambleside in Cumbria; Rustington, Little Hampton and Lodsworth in West Sussex; Kew Gardens, Richmond Gardens and Cadogan Gardens in London, and Candy Gardens in Guernsey.
The photographer and the curator of this collection is the mother, known as ‘Me’. Each album is about the size of a paperback novel. The pictures are beautifully annotated in pencil, with locations, dates and the children’s ages counted out in fractions. The photographs of the children begin when Rosemary is nine months old and Adrian three-and-three-quarter years. Every shot is taken outdoors, and there are very few, if any, candid shots. The condition of the albums is virtually brand new, as if, once each was full, they were put in a box and never touched again. If anyone has looked through them, they have done so with the care of a dedicated archivist.
Most striking is the obsessiveness. We are now used to people having hundreds of photos of their children on their phone, but in the 1930s this kind of volume would have required considerably more effort. They were clearly a happy family, but the children often look like objects of scientific study rather than devotion. Most of the photos have the stiffness of re-enactment, as if they have been rehearsed two or three times to get it right.
There are three images of Rosemary, about four years old, entirely naked on the beach. It is clear from these shots that the mother had no notion that these photos would ever be seen by anyone outside of the family. A critique of family photography presents ethical and moral problems not known in any other photographic genre.
Nigel Martin Shephard