Lorie Novak's Virtual Family Album
by Marianne Hirsch
For two decades, Lorie Novak's photographic work has been dedicated to exploring the genre
of the family snapshot. Novak belongs to a recent tradition of photographers working in the
medium of domestic photography. For her, as indeed for some of her contemporaries, family
photography has functioned as a productive means of self-knowledge and of
self-presentation - as an elaborate autobiographical project. Through an extensive
conceptual examination of the conventions of the family snapshot, she explores the familial
relationships and the technologies of representation that characterize the contemporary
photographic subject and the female photographic subject in particular: "I am the oldest of
three girls and was the most photographed. I pore over my snapshots, intrigued by how I
presented myself to the camera, how my parents saw me, saw our family, and then how I perceived
the world when I first got a camera," she writes. But she finds snapshots frustrating: "They
speak to me about the hopes, joys, and sufferings of my family, but I am also aware of how much was left out of our documentation. I am also repelled by the abundance of stereotypical feminine poses" (Novak in Hirsch, 1998). What Novak calls her "obsession with family photographs" has provoked her to use her own family images in the photographic works and installations she creates, and to juxtapose them with multiple collected snapshots in a series of multi-media museum installations and recently in her World Wide Web project "Collected Visions." In the body of work she has created during the last two decades, she has used photography as a vehicle for exploring different conceptions of individual and group identity. Her own identity as a woman, a U.S. subject, a member of the post-World War II generation and an American Jew are reflected in the aesthetic choices she makes, and thus her work enables us to explore the connections between family photography and American Jewish identity. This is especially so because, for Novak, Jewishness is not an especially visible or primary identity category, nor is it an aspect of her identity she has explicitly written about. Still, it appears in her work in various, more or less overt ways.
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