Babies and blended memory #2 – the law of diminishing photographs

Recently, in a social context, I discussed parental photographing of children with a man who happened to be a paediatrician, a father and a grandfather. He spoke of the “law of diminishing photographs”, whereby each child in a family is photographed significantly less than the one who was born before. A number of parents have also spoken to me of this. The theory is supported by Beloff’s (1985, p. 197) discussion of a survey of family photography (see Musello 1979): “Musello’s surveys demonstrate that the frequency of photographing is greatest in the earliest years of the children’s lives, with a geometric progression from birth to age six. There also appears to be a geometric decline from child 1 through to child x. Families are often embarrassed by the ‘gaps’ in the album when they are leafed through by the later-borns in the family”.

This embarrassment or guilt about the relative scarcity of photographs of one child in relation to another seems to come about from social conventions and compulsions to photograph children and an associated implication that failing to photograph something is failing to value it. As Sontag (1977, p. 8) puts it, “Not to take pictures of one’s children, particularly when they are small, is a sign of parental indifference.”

Russian dolls

“Russian dolls” by sammydavisdog (CC BY 2.0)


Presumably, the explanation of this phenomenon is not simply parents’ decreasing interest in, and valuing of, each successive child. Certainly, few parents would admit to this explanation. Most likely there is a significant novelty factor at work, both in terms of the photography of child behaviour and the experience of parenthood. There is also the practical consideration that the more children a parent is responsible for, the less time, energy and opportunity he or she will have to take photographs.

I would be very interested to hear what others think about this. Do you agree with the theory that each successive child receives less photographic attention? Do you have personal experience to support or counter this hypothesis?

See also Babies and Blended Memory

References

  • Beloff, H. (1985). Camera culture. Oxford, Blackwell.
  • Musello, C. (1979) “Family Photography” in Images of Information: Still Photography in the Social Sciences (Ed. Wagner, J.), Sage, London, pp.101-118
  • Sontag, S. (1977). On Photography. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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2 THOUGHTS ON “BABIES AND BLENDED MEMORY #2 – THE LAW OF DIMINISHING PHOTOGRAPHS”

  1. Definitely less photos of me than of my brother (who was a very cute baby!) and who is 18 months older than me. I did once ask my mother about this – she said it was to do with having less time with two babies to look after, and less disposable income
    to spend on photos, or indeed on photo-worthy events given we are talking about the olden days of getting your pics developed.

    oh, and just been catching up on Digital Human on Radio 4 on iplayer….have you been listening – I see there’s one about Memory, though not listened to it yet

  2. Thanks Denny. I hadn’t considered the financial aspect of it but that makes sense. And it’s another way in which digital photography might change this relationship since the cost of a photograph should no longer be a factor.

    I’m subscribed to Digital Human but have fallen behind. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

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