Alinari History of Italy
Università IULM Fratelli Alinari Università degli studi di Milano with the contribution of
Fondazione Cariplo


Facebook's grandfather

Photos were partly produced during the "See with your hands" MNAF didactic workshop of the Alinari National Museum of Photography and partly come from the Alinari Museum Collection.

didactic workshop

reflect on one's community of friends and family through photography

from 30 minutes to one hour and a half

You will need:
a note book, pages or a sticker album; cardboard, illustrated magazines and possibly ID photos of relatives and friends, glue, scissors ruler and square, pencils and crayons, artwork materials (recycled objects, wood, papier mâché, etc.).

The nineteenth century album is stunning not only for its contents but for the beauty of its cover. Even the cheaper ones were very elegant. In particular, those exhibited at the MNAF, that you can view in the gallery below, are enriched with particularly beautiful and original decorations. The album's ligature sometimes anticipates the album's theme: with inscriptions or even symbolically with figures, carvings, drawings and pictures visible behind windows cut out in the cover.

Create your own album following the indications below. Choose either a notebook, a number of sheets of paper stapled together, a sticker album or an old exercise book (the side that is written or drawn on can appear as a decoration). Fill the first pages of your album with the portraits of your "idols" which you can take from magazines: your favourite singers, sportsmen, ancient or modern heroes etc.. You might be inspired by the posters in your bedroom but the format has to be similar to a passport photo. In the following pages you can stick small photographs or drawings of family members, friends or people you just happen to know. You can be inspired by your Facebook community. Find a "title" which is good for your "history in images" - or for the idea you want your album to express - and represent the cover with symbolic images rather than words. If you decide to post it on your Facebook profile you might understand if your friends identify with the idea you expressed.

Suggestions on how to work independently:

Photo by Marino Sterle
1. Photo by Marino Sterle. To create your "family" album, in the sense of a collection of photos of people you are close to, you can use an old exercise book, a sticker album or just sheets of paper bound together.
Photo by Marino Sterle
2. Photo by Marino Sterle. Collect the portraits of people you love. You can use passport photos (maybe an old one from an expired document) or a drawing you made yourself.

Photo by Marino Sterle
3. Photo by Marino Sterle. When you choose the people you want to put in the album, it might be useful to take a look at your Facebook profile.
Photo by Marino Sterle
4. You can ask your parents to lend you some old photos of your grandparents, great-grandparents and great great-grandparents: once you have scanned them you can give them back and then produce your album - or if you prefer, seek the help of a professional. You can enjoy observing the similarities and differences amongst the family members of different generations.

Photo by Marino Sterle
5. Photo from the "See with your hands" MNAF workshop. In the first pages of the album, like in the early albums of the 19th century, you can put photos of people who you consider significant, maybe the same as the ones you have in your bedroom. When you have collected the portraits, find a suitable title for your "history in pictures": think about the concept you would like to emerge from the album and express it on the cover with images rather than words.
Photo by Marino Sterle
6. As an inspiration for the cover of your album, here are a number of examples from the MNAF collection. In particular here we can see two albums with covers/casings made of various materials including mother-of-pearl. The two albums, from around 1880, contain a number of albumin prints in carte-de-visite format.

Photo by Marino Sterle
7. Table album, 1878, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 4185. Casing in gilded metal shaped like an easel, alabaster flaps with gilded metal hinges and decoration cover. The contents includes albumin prints in carte-de-visite format. Photo albums, in the 19th century were placed in full view in the bourgeois salons, for all visitors to browse through.
Photo by Marino Sterle
8. Coffer album, c.1890, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 1844. Inside the coffer, here shown closed, is the portrait album.

Photo by Marino Sterle
9. Coffer album, c.1890, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 1844. The open coffer shows the album inside with covers in the same style as the coffer.
Photo by Marino Sterle
10. Album with metal panel, c.1875, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 1795. At the centre of the cover you find a lacquered miniature of a girl in oriental clothes which introduced the portraits contained in the album.

Photo by Marino Sterle
11. Portrait album, France, c.1860-70, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 679. On the cover, a wooden engraving of a female figure. Inside male and female portraits, in carte-de-visite format, of the family members taken by French atelier photographers.
Photo by Marino Sterle
12. Portrait albums of the Alinari family, c.1860-80, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 2765. The cover is in brown leather, with a brass plate on the bottom with bas-relief of a sphinx and the inscription "Antonietta Aninari". Inside the portraots of the Alinari family made in their atelier.

Photo by Marino Sterle
13. Album de la famille Bonaparte, France, Corsica, Ajaccio, 1866, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 2804. Red leather binding with golden engravings on the spine and cover with Bonaparte's imperial seal. Inside, portraits of the Bonaparte family and the evocative places of the family in Ajaccio.
Photo by Marino Sterle
14. Photo by Marino Sterle. Album of oriental craftsmanship with high relief, c.1900, MSFFA, inv. AVQ A 2224
MNAF's tactile tables, made in collaboration with the Alinari Brothers History of Photography Foundation and the Tuscan Region/ Braille printers, offer some interesting suggestions on how to make the cover of your own album. Here students take a close look at an album with black lacquered wood cover and ivory and pearl high relief of a hawk, offering also a tactile interpretation.

Photo by Marino Sterle
15. Photo by di Marino Sterle. Students observing a photo of Peggy Guggenheim (David Seymour, Venice, 1965, Fratelli Alinari Museum Collection-Favrod Collection) and its tactile interpretation.
Photo by Marino Sterle
16. Photo by Marino Sterle. Students observe the photo titled "Man with a Beard" (Julia Margaret Cameron, Sir Henry Taylor in Rembrandt fashion, 1866) and its tactile interpretations, and reflect on how the use of different materials can communicate different sensations: the wool of the beard, for example, attract visitors hands like a "security blanket".

Photo by Marino Sterle
17. For the cover of your album you can use recycled materials and transform and reassemble with the aid of the classic stationary tools like, pencils, scissors, glue, scotch tape, pencils, etc.
Photo by Tara Prout & Yona Harel during the photography class for blind people at the Fratelli Alinari, Foundation for History of Photography for the master "MA Museum Studies. Lorenzo de' Medici Institute, Marist College, in collaboration with the University of Florence and the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation".
Photo by Marino Sterle
18. In some cases a picture can inspire the creation of a cover for your album. To give the cover a material consistency, as was common in 19th century you can turn the photo into a 3D version Photo by Tara Prout & Yona Harel

Photo by Marino Sterle
19. Like in the case of the MNAF tactical experience, the covers of the albums can be used to communicate with the blind. If you decide to post it on you Facebook you can find out if your friends can identify with the idea you expressed. Photo by Tara Prout & Yona Harel.

Questions and considerations:

The family album of the 19th century, in the characteristics described below is in some ways comparable to today's Facebook. Consider and reflect on each of these.

  1. During the Risorgimento, the family album is a collection of carte-de-visite size photos of the faces of single individuals or of their bust or full-length figure: this is one of the differences with modern albums where you can find photos of a group of people. 19th century family albums are collections of portraits of small format, like passport photos, and the objective of the photo is to sanction the identity of that person.
  2. The portrait of the same person can be found in many different albums, that is, in different groups of affiliation. If we could retrace all the albums in which a person is included, we could reconstruct that person's history and social relations.
  3. Albums of the past are characterised by the arrangement of photos, which if otherwise kept haphazardly in a drawer would not have the same narrative impact. If in general the context in which a photo is placed changes its meaning, in the case of the album the collection of pictures suggest a natural narrative, revealing hierarchies, relationships and stories behind those faces.
  4. The family album not only collects faces of close and distant family members, but also visiting friends and acquaintances, or people encountered during a journey or just people the photographer happens to be curious to capture. Compared to the group photo, the album has a practical characteristic: in albums you can start with a collection of people that can vary in time. This group can become larger as the family members increase. In some cases albums are made in a way that you just change the pictures or their positions, recording eventual break-ups between friends or family members, or adding the picture of a baby born out of wedlock or of people not officially classifiable as family. The family album therefore represented the actual social relations, those that were official, but also those that were aspired to: being and appearing are somehow confused
  5. The word "album" (for ancient romans it was the white slabs on which public acts were registered and displayed in public) carries a connotation associated with public communication as historian Luigi Tomassini states. If we think about a family album we consider it as a private object made for a very small audience: friends, family or ourselves projected in the future. The album is something between the private, bedside table dimension and the public dimension of the photograph printed book.
  6. Paraphrasing historian Luigi Tomassini, albums are stories, individual tales, forms of popular narrative in pictures, where the author’s relationships are the protagonists. Probably these family albums are the first testimony of a visual memory which future historians will have to consider. But even before historians, these albums speak to our sensitivity, because they are stories that suggest feelings and emotions. Did you know that Facebook is being studied by sociologists in their research on the younger generations?

another exercise we suggest consist of imagining what it would have been like if Facebook had been accessible in Alinari’s days, or rather during the Risorgimento. You can write a text or produce a graphic composition with whatever tools you choose.

Suggestions for continuing the activity:
following the suggestions, invent your own creative path, answer the questions, take part in the MNAF didactic workshops in Florence.

For further information:
Gabriella de Polo
Didactic Coordination
Fratelli Alinari. Fondazione per la storia della Fotografia


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