THE LETTER 11 Autumn 1997, pages 60-75
Family albums can read like biographies cataloguing a person’s life narrative diacronically in a series of images. Similarly, one photograph and the brief moment which is captured, can, if we ask questions, contain all one’s history synchronically. Who is standing next to whom? Who from the family is present or absent? A look, a smile or a frown, – these elements of a photograph can take us beyond the two dimensional image and draw us into the unconscious life of the family.
Children’s drawings of their family can be viewed in a similar spirit, a snapshot of a child’s life and at the same time a window into their unconscious place in the structures in which they find themselves. Kate and Adam are a brother and sister who are adopted. In analysing their pictures I will present an impression of their lives and in so doing place their family back in the picture.
It is not novel to approach the play of children as a means of expression. From the moment in 1920 when Freud observed his grandson playing with a reel and formulated that through play the child was both representing and mastering the anxiety that he felt about separation from his mother, we have looked at the non-verbal, symbolic expressions that children offer us as a valuable source of interpretation. Freud’s insight into the anxieties that childhood presents us with, centres on the premise that the functions of the family go far beyond the biological, and so the particular struggles of adoptive children, immediately subverting any notion of ‘biological family’ or ‘instinctual family’ interests me.
Indeed, if we do not move beyond the instinctual basis for family life how can we understand not only the components in the structure of the family but also the huge impact that these elements have on us as individuals.
… we have only to reflect on what the notion of fatherhood owes to the spiritual assumptions that have marked its development to understand that in this field cultural agencies so dominate …