L' Album de la famille D. 1939-1964
L' Album de la famille D. 1939-1964 is a collection of 150 photographs borrowed from the family album of Boltanski's friend, Michael Durand, a Parisian gallery owner. Boltanski said, "I who knew nothing about them [the family] wanted to try to reconstitute their life by using these images which, taken at all the important moments, would remain after their death as proof of their existence. I could discover the order in which the photographs had been taken and the relations that existed between the persons represented in them. But I realised that I could go no further, because these documents appeared to belong to the memories common to any family, that each person could recognise himself in these vacation or birthday photographs. These photographs did not teach me anything about the Family D., they returned me to my own memories".
The work is one of the earliest indications of the artist's fascination with the illusion of photography, not just in the way it freezes memories, but also in the way it can allude to the idea of defeating death. Historian Lyn Gumpert stated: "these images are less reconstructing the history of the family D., as witnesses of collective rituals which we refer to common memories, such as the family party or holiday by the sea. What the album reveals, is also the fragility of our lives, crystallized in some events so stereotypical that they evacuate what is singular, what desperately, however, we try to fix in each photograph, and which always confuses in a collective, anonymous experience, as soon as the photograph leaves the private context [of the family album]".
As an introduction to its 2019 career retrospective, Center Pompidou de Paris presented L' Album de la famille D. at the beginning of the trajectory of Boltanski's oeuvre: "this work strongly marks Boltanski's career. Time, memory, death, photography already [in 1971] draw the quadrilateral within which the artist's future research will develop. This means that this route [through the exhibition] does not look like a path strewn with roses. Nearly half a century later, the Center Pompidou exhibition verifies, through dark spaces, barely lit by a pale electric light, this path marked out by theaters of shadows, black mirrors, altars, reliquaries, photographs of corpses, black portraits, the dead".
Installation: 150 photographs displayed across the span a museum wall