Arts and Culture / Magazine Feature

Family photos get artistic makeover in new Myhren exhibit

An untitled photo from Janet Delaney’s “Housebound” series is part of a new photography show opening Thursday at DU’s Myren Gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Myhren Gallery

Family pictures are as old as photography itself, but many artists still find ways to put their personal stamps on the classic family portrait. Three such photographers — Janet Delaney, Todd Hido and Cecil McDonald Jr. — are featured in “The Family Stage,” a new exhibit opening Thursday, Sept. 24, at DU’s Myhren Gallery.

“What we were looking for was a group of artists that were approaching the issue of family from different perspectives and covering different generations and different types of family units, ideally with a parental point of view but also with a child’s point of view, sort of creating that cross-generational dialogue as well,” says exhibit curator Rupert Jenkins. “I think with the three we’ve been quite successful in covering that amount of ground.”

Offering the parent’s perspective is Delaney, whose “Housebound” series chronicles her family life over a 20-year period, including the death of her parents and her daughters growing into teenagers.

“Initially a simple love story, this scenario grew increasingly more complex,” Delaney writes on her Web site. “My second daughter came in wailing just as my father began to pass away in a cloud of dementia. My mother struggled to invent each new day … My camera seized on the intensity of the smallest moments and the most inconsequential objects. Pomegranates bled, eggbeaters oozed, my daughter floated facedown in her dreams. I wanted to photograph everything that made me pause. I wanted to record the sensation of living.”

Hido brings the child’s view with his series, “Ohio,” a mix of vintage and current family photos taken with the same Kodak Instamatic camera.

“Some of them were taken when he was a kid by his father and he’s gone back and used those actual images; others he has taken with the same camera and you really can’t tell the difference,” Jenkins says. “He’s been very introspective about what it was in his childhood that resonated with him. There’s one picture in particular that his father took of his mother that he remembers and that he found years later. He’s almost haunted by this picture. It’s quite interesting psychologically.”

McDonald puts a different twist on family photos with “Domestic Observations and Occurrences,” a collection of large-scale prints that capture personal family dramas the artist restaged for the camera, giving his posed portraits a painterly, theatrical quality.

“I think it’s interesting because these are moments that have really resonated with the photographer enough that he wants to go back and re-create them and sort of get it just right,” Jenkins says.

“The Family Stage” also includes an educational component that traces the evolution of the family photo album from the thick books of old to today’s digital albums.

“We’ll have a beautiful album from the 1860s and then the very first Kodak snapshots that were introduced in the very early 19th century, which really liberated the image-making process,” Jenkins says. “And that is very much akin to the digital revolution that happened eight, 10 years ago, which again liberated the process from film.”

The Family Stage: Photographs by Janet Delaney, Todd Hido, and Cecil McDonald Jr. opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m., Sept. 24, at the Victoria H. Myhren Gallery, 2121 E. Asbury Ave. in Denver. The exhibit runs through Nov. 15. Hours are noon to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free. For more information, visit

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