I was fairly shocked to learn that baby photography originated with racist and “scientific” purposes. Well I was shocked, but not surprised.
This idea of eugenics as a documentation of children’s physical, “racial” characteristic development is meant to ensure a pure, white genealogy without defect. The baby book has become a relatively normal process for parents, but maybe has fallen out of style with the influx of digital photography and family blogs. Also to be included are those annoying emails with pictures of obscure relative’s children, titled in capital letters: ITS A BOY! or JIMMY’S FIRST CHRISTMAS.
What’s especially humorous to me is how parent’s will pay money to go to professional photographers, to set their children up in awkward and unnatural settings. My sisters and I have fallen victim to many of these photoshoots, such as sitting together on a sled in sweaters (Can one year olds sled? In Florida?) and the staple newborn portraits as featured below. I thought only our generation was obsessed with photography, but it seems our parents and their parents and their parents, etc. beat us to the punch. Earlier there seems to have been a focus on family documentation. I can relate to Bell Hooks, because the walls of my grandmother’s house are full of family pictures that draw my attention every visit. These photographs solidify, contextualize, and represent family history. Family members are able to connect on a personal level and can find details about themselves in the process. Viewing photography is a highly individual experience, even more so when you’re looking at your own family in the past.
Baby photography has a strange past but is now firmly established as a cultural necessity if you love your child at all. The purpose of baby photography today is to create momentos, to map out a life history, but also a source of egoism and pride. But is that so bad? I just think babies are cute. Especially pictures of myself as a baby. Here’s two that I dug out of my personal archives: