The Piece by Piece project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, examines family photographs as a mirror of history and cultural identity. Young people, in particular young parents, explore how photography has been used to document the family unit from the early nineteenth century until today.
Since 1839 when the French painter and physicist Louis Daguerre introduced one of the most effective methods of making permanent images captured with a camera, people have distilled and immortalised loved ones in photographs. Named after their inventor, Daguerreotypes were often referred to as a ‘mirror with a memory’.
Cheaper than portrait paintings, Daguerreotypes were still relatively expensive to produce and reserved for those who had the means. However, as interest in photography grew it was not long before new processes and cameras became available to more than just the wealthy. The birth of the snapshot came in 1888 when George Eastman, the founder of Kodak, declared that the Kodak camera made possible a collection of photographs which record the life of its owner. This was echoed in the company slogan ‘we capture your memories forever’.
Piece by Piece focuses on family history uncovered through memories, artefacts and heirlooms. The project explores identity and belonging, using heritage as an anchor for inspiration and learning. It considers how the family portrait informs who we are and how family history is captured and expressed in a modern digital age.
Photography has served to influence, shape and inform our experience of the world and family photographs narrate our family, our history, ourselves. Reflecting who we may become as we gaze back and look forward, connecting personal family history to the collective experience.
Photographs continue to celebrate and mark key moments in our lives. Digital technologies allow us to share these moments in an instant, linking us to others in distant lands. Photographs provide a document for generations to come, which bear testimony to our own participation in history. This project contributes another piece to this.