Rie Yamada re-staged portraits from family albums purchased at flea markets and auctions. Yamada has made no effort to contact the families featured in the albums she used for her photo series Familie Werden.

Yamada used a self-timer and remote control in all her photos. For group pictures, like this one, she used Photoshop to combine multiple images together into one frame.

Yamada usually had only one person assist her on shoots. But to create this image, Yamada needed six people on set to help with outfit changes and positioning.

Yamada did her own hair and makeup whenever possible. For help re-creating looks that required greater detail, Yamada enlisted the help of her sister, a hairstylist.

Yamada concluded that many of the original photos she collected were probably taken by men. But she noticed that with the development of the autofocus camera in the 1970s, family members were more frequently taking turns photographing each other.

“I felt a voyeuristic excitement and sense of guilt as I was going through the family photos that I had just purchased,” Yamada says. “But this made me feel that it was my responsibility to fully understand the families and to portray all of the subjects myself.”

For her series, Yamada followed certain criteria: Any album she used for her project had to contain at least 100 photos, and she would only re-stage portraits where the subject was aware that they were being photographed.

If Yamada was able to place the original location of the image, she would travel to the site for the shoot. If not, she looked for a similar location or would create a set in a studio.

“To familiarize myself with the background of some of the original photos, I often drew comparisons between the family in the photo and my own family,” Yamada says. “Talking to my mother and my grandmother also gave me an opportunity to learn more about my own family history.”

Yamada wrote her thesis on the transformation of family photography and visual culture, examining representations of family beginning with portrait paintings.

Yamada began her research for Familie Werden in March 2017 and completed the portraits later that year. The series has been featured in more than 10 exhibitions.

Yamada used 10 albums for the series: Five from her native Japan and five from Germany, where she has lived since 2011.

“I selected photographs where the subjects intend to be photographed and are aware that they are being photographed,” Yamada says. “Their intention and self-awareness communicates to me ‘this is my family, this is who I am.'”

Performance is a defining characteristic of Yamada’s work. “In this project, I wasn’t physically behind the lens, pressing the shutter,” she says. “I was creating the images by engaging in it myself.”

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