introduction. on Family tales
1. “As the Dutch historian Gustaaf Reiner suggested half a century ago, it might be useful to
replace the idea of sources with that of ‘traces’ of the past in the present. The term ‘traces’
refers to manuscripts, printed books, buildings, furniture, the landscape . . . as well as to
many diﬀerent kinds of images: paintings, statues, engravings, photographs. The use of
images by historians cannot and should not be limited to ‘evidence’ in the strict sense of
the term. . . . Room should also be left for what Francis Haskell has called ‘the impact
of the image on the historical imagination.’ . . . They [images] bring home to us what we
may have known but did not take so seriously before. In short, images allow us to ‘imag-
ine’ the past more vividly. As the critic Stephan Bann puts it, our position face- to- face
with an image brings us ‘face- to- face with history.’” Burke, Eyewitnessing, 13.
2. Wexler, Tender Violence, 133.
3. Ibid. (emphasis added).
4. Ibid., 167.
5. Berger, “Understanding a Photograph,” 292.
6. The curator and art historian Sarah Greenough emphasizes: “The vast majority of [ver-
nacular] photographs . . . were not made by people who considered themselves artists,
nor were they made to be art. Rather, created as personal, social, governmental, or sci-
entiﬁc documents, they were made as cherished keepsakes of beloved friends or family
members, as evidence of squalor and deprivation or for use in social or governmen-
tal reform, or as records of new worlds. And just as often, the primary agent behind
their creation and their intended initial use was not the photographer, the mere opera-
tor of the camera, but the individual who conceived and commissioned them. These
kinds of photographs, which are now commonly described as vernacular and under-