Mitch Epstein. Family Business

Family Business is a multi-media story published in 2003, presenting the demise of Epstein’s fathers furniture store, and real estate business. The book follows the story of the collapse of the town Holyoke, Massachusetts, from a booming industrial town to a drug capital, through his fathers downfall. After two teens had set fire to one of his fathers buildings, Epstein went home and was promoted to make a series of large format photographs and a video installation about his life, which was divided in to four chapters: store, property, town and home. It includes photographs, storyboards, video stills, archival materials and text.

The photographs, taken on large format film are bold in colour making them very eye-catching. All the subjects are relevant to his family, here you can see an image of them packing up the furniture store, his mother and father. The images aren’t all directly informative to the break down of the city, they tell more of a story through emotion and real lives. The emotions on their faces, and the striking image of his father swimming, with the deep blue making a harsh outline of his frail body, presents how this was put on an old man, which makes you feel bad for such a thing to happen.

In many film photograph projects, the photographer takes advantage of the natural grain of the film. But here, the images look almost digital, although they have a crisp, stillness that film produces, they are so sharp and the colours are bold. I really like this affect, as it allows you to concentrate on the emotion in the images instead of how the film makes you feel like you are looking at the past.

I appreciate the context of the video, on the homepage of ‘family business’ on his site, the video comes before the ‘view images’ suggesting that he wants you to engage with the context before analysing the images. The video is the only place that it indicates that the tenants are foreign, suggesting a deeper link in to the stereotypes of American society. It connects the viewer to the hard relationship between his father and his tenants. But i do feel that the film is long, at 25 minutes with a monotone narrating voice, it is easy to get distracted. But filmed in a casual form, it feels like you are being honestly shown the situation.

I think together, the photographs and video present a whole story. The images alone, show the family life in 17 frames, but doesnt suggest any outside context. Where as the video adds the information needed to link it to the break down of the city and what is happening in the area, including the type of people.

I am interested in how well Epstein has presented the break down of a community through one family. I feel this would be hard to do through just the images, as they are very personal to the family, although it does convey deep emotions and contextual landscapes to show the viewer the area. It is a different way of presenting the relationships in a community, which is hard to achieve but here has worked really affectively.


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