Review: Inheritance by Andrea Stern


Book Reviews

There’s a certain thrill about finding a stranger’s family album at a thrift store and then to look at the life of that stranger and his or her family. Or rather the life as that stranger wanted to have it preserved, because - ultimately - as Martin Parr noted, family albums are really just propaganda: They are intended to show the family in a positive way. Of course, if you are aware of this, there still is nothing you can do about it, but you can try to work with it - and that is what Andrea Stern did with her Inheritance.

Inheritance is a family album, compiled over the course of 15 years, and chronicling some of the events in her family.

Since it’s an official book, you don’t get quite that thrill of something found. After all, most family albums consist of photos glued into some pre-made blank book, whereas Inheritance is an actual, printed book. But in exchange you get to see the work of a photography who knows very clearly what she is doing - something btw that I’ll always prefer over the amateurish stuff of found photography, the fascinating aspects of which simply escape me. Maybe it’s because found photography too often contains an aspect of making fun of others (who can’t defend themselves, since they’re absent).

In any case, Inheritance gives us another attempt to portray a family, most of it in the kind of snapshot style (think Sylvia Plachy or Nan Goldin) that has played a pretty big role in photography over the past years (I wonder what a family album shot in a different style would look like - would people think such an album to be less authentic?). As such, the book is a fairly good overview of how such photography works and is used, for me a welcome diversion from my usual photographic diet - even though, at the end of the day, I do prefer the more formal compositions over the real snapshots - luckily, there are quite a few real gems in the book.