Conference Overview // Reframing Family Photography (Sept. 21-23, 2017), Toronto, Ontario


The Reframing Family Photography conference was presented by The Family Camera Network on September 21 - 23, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario (Canada). This academic conference brought together over 120 international scholars, curators, and students to critically examine the genre of family photography. It considered family photography in the context of recent historical shifts that have transformed conceptions of kinship, such as Cold War dislocations, the visibility of queer and trans family formations, transnational adoptions, and immigration policies. 

The opening event was hosted at the Royal Ontario Museum on the evening of September 21. Conference participants and members of the public were invited to attend a panel that featured artists Jeff Thomas and Deanna Bowen, as well as the work of Dinh Q. Lê presented by Thy Phu. This panel was moderated by curators Sarah Bassnett and Jennifer Orpana. Each of the featured artists had artistic works that explored family photography on display in The Family Camera exhibition. These works included: Happy Father's Day (2015) and Husking and Braiding White Corn (2017) by Jeff Thomas, We Are From Nicodemus (2017) by Deanna Bowen, and Crossing the Farther Shore (2014; 2017) by Dinh Q. Lê. The panel explored the role of these, and other works by the participating artists, in relation to contemporary struggles for social and political change. Afterwards, the audience was invited to view The Family Camera exhibition and to enjoy an opening reception in the C5 Restaurant Lounge.

The next two days were held at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. The first plenary session focused on key concepts related to the study of family photography. It was moderated by Thy Phu and Elspeth Brown, and it included leading scholars in the field: Marianne Hirsch, Martha Langford, Deborah Willis, Laura Wexler, and Gayatri Gopinath. Additional plenary sessions examined family photographs in relation to Indigenous Kinships (featuring Richard Hill and Carol Payne, moderated by Sarah Parsons), Collecting and Archiving (featuring Fiona Kinsey, Luce Lebart, Mark Sealy and Rahaab Allana, moderated by Elspeth Brown and Deepali Dewan), and Colonial and Carceral Contexts (featuring Tina Campt and Nicole Fleetwood, and moderated by Julie Crooks).

Over the course of the plenary sessions and an additional 12 panel sessions, the conference explored and historicized family photographs in the contexts of violence, migration, and dislocation. It gave scholars the opportunity to explore questions such as: How might the reproduction and circulation of family photos, or their loss due to sudden or violent dislocation, help connect and constitute communities shaped as a result of internal and global migrations? How has the digital turn altered the look and meaning of family photographs? How might we situate family photography within a broader history of photography and within contemporary art? How might collection and archival practices, as well as research design, open up or foreclose, analysis of family photographs and the political work they do?

The thoughtful research that was presented at the conference inspired many engaging conversations. Reframing Family Photography provided a forum for scholars to discuss and explore: the ethical commitments of researchers; the affective dimensions of family photographs; and the potential for family photographs to inspire political change. We are hopeful that this event sparked further collaborations on the topic of family photography and that it helped to contribute to the advancement of the field.

The Family Camera Network, The Family Camera exhibition, and the Reframing Family Photography conference were highlighted in "Luce Lebart's Best of 2017," which was published in the British Journal of Photography (31 December 2017).


Video Excerpts

Plenary Session: Key Concepts (22 Sept. 2017)

Featuring: Marianne Hirsch (Columbia University), Martha Langford (Concordia University), Deborah Willis (New York University), Laura Wexler (Yale University), and Gayatri Gopinath (New York University)

Moderated by: Thy Phu (Western University) and Elspeth Brown (University of Toronto)


Plenary Session: Indigenous Kinships (22 Sept. 2017)

Featuring: Richard Hill (Emily Carr University) and Carol Payne (Carleton University)

Moderated by: Sarah Parsons (York University)


Plenary Session: Collecting and Archiving Family Photographs (23 Sept. 2017)

Featuring: Fiona Kinsey (Museum Victoria, Australia), Luce Lebart (Canadian Photography Institute, Canada), Mark Sealy (Autograph ABP, UK), and Rahaab Allana (Alkazi Collection, India)

Moderated by: Elspeth Brown (University of Toronto) and Deepali Dewan (Royal Ontario Museum)

Conference Committee: Thy Phu, Elspeth Brown, Sarah Bassnett, Sarah Parsons, Melanie Wilmink, and Sajdeep Soomal

Conference Venues: Royal Ontario Museum and Munk School of Global Affairs (University of Toronto), Toronto, Ontario

Photography by: Mark Kasumovic (2017); Videography by: Katie Micak (2017)