Book review: The Hereditary Estate by Daniel W. Coburn
Despite photography as a practice being deeply and irrevocably rooted in the physical world, its goals are psychological in nature. In The Hereditary Estate, Daniel W. Coburn expands the traditional family photo album to show the full spectrum of familial emotion and memory, complete with images that are manipulated to engage the psyche. In both written pieces proceeding and following Coburn’s album, ghosts are a common theme, and we as members of an American family all share in being the haunted and the haunting.
The book is filled with images that come from Coburn’s family archives as well as the estates and albums of strangers. Some are manipulated to convey the intended effects, others are in their original form haunting and foreboding. This addendum to the traditional “ideal, white, hetero-normative twentieth century family” (Coburn) album is filled with traumas and hauntings, but also a desire to tell more of the whole story, the whole history, in each photograph. Images of daughters, brothers, and aunts with faces scratched out and distorted shine light on the darkness inherited within the nucleus of the nuclear family.
As an alternative offering of the American photo album, Coburn does make great strides in challenging the typical, overly-positive ideal. One particularly interesting image shows a young white boy holding a firecracker—an image that is inherently American—the smoke from which badly distorts our view of his face. This image alone is an excellent example of contrast between the American dream and the reality of our struggles on the journey to find it. It is, however, still a representation of much of what Coburn himself criticizes the early Eastman Kodak advertisements of being: while no longer ideal, it still only represents the “white, hetero-normative twentieth century family”.
"...this is a book of emotions"
When I first opened this book and flipped through it for initial impressions, I left myself a note for when I would finally have time for proper review. Upon opening the book again, it was sitting just under the front cover waiting for me: a blank sheet of paper with the word “Emotion” scrawled across the middle. I stand by this initial impression that this is a book of emotions. Like anything emotional, you will get out of it what you bring to it. Whether it’s a jarring looking into a family that is foreign to you or a past that reflects and engages the memories of your own, this collection of images is sure to evoke a psychological response.
The Hereditary Estate is the first major monograph by photographer Daniel W. Coburn. The images are presented with two thoughtful essays contributed by Karen Irvine, Curator and Associate Director at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, and Kirsten Pai Buick, Associate Professor of Art History at the University of New Mexico.
Hardcover with Swiss Binding // 29 x 22,5 cm // 112 pages // 76 duotone ills. // English // ISBN 978-3-86828-537-6 // 2014