Rethinking the family portrait

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 29 2012 12:00 p.m. MDT

"Hercules" by Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen. (The New York Times Lens blog)

Our Take: The messiness of daily family life — from diapers to bath time — is often juxtaposed against our shiny family photos. Husband and wife, and artistic duo, Stephan Hillerbrand and Mary Magsamen have begun to shake up the traditional family portrait. In this article by The New York Times' Lens blog, the couple describe how their artistic and family worlds merged as they created staged documentary photos of the ups and downs of everyday family life.

For most children, household rules are fairly simple. Love your family, take care of your things.

That’s usually the case for Emmett Hillerbrand, too. But not always.

Consider, for instance, a short video from the series “Family Portrait” in which Emmett, 5 years old at the time, stands in the family kitchen, hurling dozens of white Ikea plates to the ground.

“He said, ‘I can’t smash this,’” said Stephan Hillerbrand, his father. “‘I’ve been told for five years not to break plates and then you want me, in the middle of the kitchen, to break 100 of them?’”

As the video progresses, the reaction on Emmett’s face exposes his changing level of comfort. By the end, his timidity is gone and he’s smashing plates like it’s his job. In a way, it is.

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