Gil Pasternak to examine history of family snaps for BBC documentary

From snapping with a smartphone to sharing on Facebook, photography is playing an unprecedented role in documenting and experiencing our lives.


This week, Dr Gil Pasternak, Senior Research Fellow in the Photographic History Research Centre, will be part of a BBC documentary film exploring what family photographs say about Britain’s post-war social history.

Smile! The Nation’s Family Album will tell the story of the family photo album, from the early days of Box Brownie photographs to modern stories being told via Instagram accounts.

Reflecting on his role in the production of the film, Gil explained: “A large portion of my research studies the social and cultural work family photographs have been made to do in various intimate and public environments in recent history.

“A BBC producer who was interested in asking similar questions about family photography in post-war Britain came across my work while researching for the film. In April 2016 he contacted me to discuss some initial ideas he had about the kinds of photographs and photographic trends that he wanted to explore.

“Following our conversation, the BBC appointed me as an academic consultant for the show. Since then until the film was ready to go on air I worked with various BBC researchers and producers to identify themes, other field specialists, and relevant scholarly materials.

“I gave them information about the ways in which issues concerning social class, gender identity, cultural background and technological advance affect the production, uses and perceived meanings of family photographs.”

Among the stories shared in the programme are the role of Kodak in creating an industry of popular photography, and the impact of the digital revolution.

It also looks at the way in which families used photo albums to share experiences and record memories, and, through a series of real-life stories, tells moving stories of how precious moments have been preserved.

Gil said: “The resulting film is structured around personal experiences of specific British families, each of which used a different type of camera to capture the majority of their family photographs at distinct moments in British history.

“These examples demonstrate how the development in photographic technology combined with local social history influenced the types of photographs they were able to capture, and therefore also the stories they were able to tell about themselves, their family and friends, their beliefs, interests, aspirations, and life in the UK more broadly.”

Speaking of the development of family photography in the digital era, Gil added: “Digital technologies give camera users more and more control over the production and postproduction of photographs by bringing the full photographic process home.

“The film covers this aspect through explorations of family photography in a reality in which photography has been plugged to the internet. It shows that as families find it gradually more and more challenging to get together in physical space, the incorporation of cameras into smart technologies assists in bringing the family together in virtual space.

“In the era of smart technologies, family photographs no longer merely function as memories of the past, but they instead become active participants in the formation of our present experiences and in shaping the dynamics of family life.”

Smile The Nation’s Family Album will be shown on BBC Four on the 16th of March 2017, at 9pm.