Kodak provided a template for how to shoot ‘family’ – but we discovered (via topical magazine covers) shooting family in the age of the smartphone has got a lot more complicated!
1. Kodak Moment
With their ads, Kodak wrote the book on how we shoot family images. The images in their adverts were visual tools, instructions for the kinds of imagery we might want to shoot and save – like this example below.
The ad above, from around the 1920s, sells the camera’s ‘autographic’ facility which enables the photographer to add such ‘metadata’ as time and place on the film. Not only incredibly useful but in a pre-Pinterest age, the ad lists a whole set of prompts and inspiration for a photographer. Note also the female photographer, Mother – indeed many of the classic Kodak ads talk to women as the archivist of the family story (“there’s always another story waiting for your Kodak”).
The branding for the unique quality Kodak’s cameras conferred on slices of life even passed into everyday language – ‘the Kodak moment’. The Kodak moment was shorthand for ‘timeless’ that really meant instant nostalgia, especially in the age of the slideshow. The incredibly difficult trick Kodak pulled off (echoed by Instagram) is to combine a built-in nostalgia for time and place, especially with regard to family, along with the latest technological innovations.
Take for example this recent ad for the Kodak Easyshare Max Z990, still riffing on Family and nostalgia, incorporating an image originally taken for Kodak’s huge Colorama space at New York’s Grand Central Station (click for more on Colorama). And the fact was, for the average user, Kodak wasn’t selling cameras, or film, or even technology – it was selling a mid-century modern idea of Family.
2. Norman Rockwell’s ‘Freedom From Want’
In the early 1940s the great commercial artist Norman Rockwell created a series of four paintings inspired by President’s Roosevelt’s speech on four freedoms – Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Fear, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Want.
While many of Rockwell’s images are tattooed on the soul of America, Freedom from Want has become shorthand for the family gathering, the ritual of family life, and even the ultimate in sentimentality. But what is Family if it’s not about sentiment.
The power of Rockwell’s image as the ultimate sign of Family is clear in the extent to which is has been satirised, parodied and paid homage to, not least in this promo for the egalitarian inheritors of Rockwell’s vision – Modern Family.
3. Mid-Century Family
This is how the Mid-Century American Family was imagined by designers, engineers and architects. The film was produced by film company Jam Handy and set up by Olympic Swimming Gold-Medal winner Jamison (Jam) Handy who made training, educational and advertising films for the military and corporations such as General Motors, DuPont, and U.S. Steel. How families might behave in the modern age.
4. Freud and Mid-Century America
Mid-Century America was also the dawn of therapeutic America. Long before Tony Soprano reluctantly rocked up for some time truth-telling with the head-doctor, the late 1950s and 1960s was the moment when the work of Sigmund Freud, the cult of the psychological expert and the culture of self-improvement slowly began to emerge along with the new consumer society.
And along with this new way of thinking, there emerged certainly among writers, artists and Madison Avenue an awareness of psychological triggers and a very literal kind of visual symbolism. This illustration for Goodyear tyres has been getting some viral buzz (along with a companion ad) not least because Dad looks a little disturbed, perhaps even a little…Psycho?! Now we don’t want to get all Freudian, but maybe Dad feels a little threatened by the size of Mum’s beach umbrella? Then again, perhaps it’s just a bloke with shears.
5. Fathers and Sons
In the Luxury market, advertisers and brands pitch their wares as something beyond price. And the messages from Private Wealth Managers in banks, sometimes quaintly referred to as the ‘Family Office’, is that over 3 or 4 generations wealth is often squandered unless it is managed properly. So Patek Phillipe sell legacy and inheritance, mainly around Father and Sons.
The latter relationship can be a difficult one to sustain for high-achievers whose career occupies a large slice of their life. It’s perhaps a very literal play on the idea of time for Fathers and Sons who couldn’t share enough of it.
6. Smartphone Moment
The virtue of the New Yorker cover, especially for subscribers, is that there are no coverlines. It’s a standalone image where illustrators are able to editorialise, give a point of view on a theme or article in the magazine. Chris Ware‘s classic Halloween cover was one of the earliest to visualize our absorption with the light of the smartphone. What makes it a great image is that it celebrates the glowing beauty of the smartphone while highlighting how it interrupts the magic of Halloween.
A more recent cover by Mark Ulriksen captures the contemporary version of the family portrait – here’s us looking through a screen, at you, looking through a screen. It’s the new version of the Kodak moment.