Having a family portrait taken may seem like a bland activity, but one Utah researcher says the process can reveal how family members interact and how mothers feel about their roles.
Glenna C. Boyce, a researcher at Utah State University, said her study of how families behave at photography sessions showed that some wom-en may consider the activity proof of their success as mothers."These mothers were using the family portraits as one of many possible ways to present themselves as a success in their chosen career motherhood," Boyce said. "They may be using a picture on the wall the way a doctor does a diploma: `Here's my career. Don't they look nice?' This is her area. (The portrait) is her baby, and it seems to be important to her."
Boyce was one of many participants at last week's annual meeting of the Utah Council of Family Relations, a group of about 150 educators, clergy and medical professionals concerned about family science. The daylong conference took place at Brigham Young University and included lectures about parents as consumers of child care, child-rearing attitudes and myths about selecting a mate.
Boyce's prepared her lecture after spending three weeks in a Logan photography studio, where she interviewed families who came in to have their pictures taken and observed their interaction as they went through the process.
She chose the portrait studio setting because the activity seemed to present enough conflicting interests among family members to show how they function as a group.
One interesting observation was that the photographer always placed the mother in the center of the group, and Mom seemed to run the show.
"The mother always held the baby. The father never held the baby, and this was all under the direction of the photographer," Boyce said. "This is a woman's activity. The mothers always made the preparation, choosing the clothes and fixing the hair for everyone in the family. The word `important' kept coming out from the mothers with regard to the portrait."
Of the 15 families Boyce observed, the mothers in all but one did the majority of the managing during the session, although fathers spoke about as often as mothers did.
The people who attended the conference heard about many studies like Boyce's, and Tom Holman, program chairman, said that's important, because it allows family science specialists to share ideas.
"This is the only organization that doesn't key in on a particular profession. It's for anyone who has an interest in families," he said. "This is an opportunity for people to get together and learn from each other and talk about new information and research. It's important to talk. Ten years ago, sexual abuse wasn't even a topic. Now it's everywhere. Not that it's anymore prevalent, but people are more willing to come out of the closet now."