The term ‘instant relative’ has emerged in popular culture. It refers to those photos of people found at flea markets. You can purchase them, take them home and presto! you have instant ancestors on your wall. I’ve seen them in holiday houses and restaurants, cloak rooms and hallways. In one holiday house I stayed in they hung above the bath. On the one hand it’s a shallow decor trend but on the other hand people really do start feeling a connection with the people in found photos. There’s definitely something deeper going on.
These instant relatives – photographed in the UK in about 1965 – all come from a single collection. One inherits the loving, friendly or intimate gaze without any effort, and perhaps that is their attraction.
Snapshots such as these had great significance for their owners in colonial South Africa, depicting as they do one’s connection to a tribe in a country of origin, far away.
With the remove of time and no real familial connection, the anthropologist’s eye comes in. I love the details of domesticity, the houses and clothing tell a thousand stories about middle class English society.
Here’s Bob Richter explaining what instant ancestors are and how you can welcome them into your home.