The Fine Art Of Family

by Matt Damsker


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Photographs by Monica Rich Kosann. Published by MRK Fine Arts LLC, P.O. Box 478, New Canaan, CT 06840. Published 2004. Information: Produced by Marquand Books, Seattle, Washington; $34; 64 pages; ISBN No. 0-9744202-0-4.

This self-published collection of black-and-white photos by New England-based photographer Monica Rich Kosann might seem like a grouping of high-grade Kodak moments if Kosann weren't so obviously attentive to the details of tone and composition that make images more than snapshots. Beyond that, she has a well-honed eye for capturing both the casual and most expressive posturings of children and parents as they do nothing much.

Indeed, privileged leisure may not be the theme here, but Kosann's family-friend subjects--the mostly white upper-middle classes of New Canaan, Connecticut, and thereabouts--are clearly among the most enfranchised people around. The exception is a shot of a young black boy ("Under the Bridge") that occupies the book's center spread like some line of demarcation between Wasp entitlement and urban reality. Seen in close-up from the shoulders up, the boy is positioned in the far-left corner of the frame, with a blurred cityscape backgrounding his somewhat intimidated expression. As a social statement, the photo is compassionate, but in the context of this book, it unfortunately smacks of noblesse oblige.

Out of that context, though, it is a compelling enough image, and the placement of the subject to the far side of the frame suggests a disturbing social distance from the mainstream. Kosann intends this photo to stop us and make us think, midway through all the comforting images of comfortable life. Fair enough, though perhaps it is out of place in a concept that celebrates, mainly, "The Fine Art of Family." Of course, solitary images of children abound, including a portrait of another black child, Lily, who regards us intensely and confidently amidst some lush backyard foliage.

Mainly, though, these are family portraits--of siblings clustered with their parents, their facial resemblances scanning like DNA bar codes; of kids frolicking around the swimming pool, or playing with pets on Adirondack chairs; of golden mothers with their plumply precious babies; of vital dads, crisply elegant matriarchs, and the freshest young faces. The aura of New England homogeneity is strong, as Kosann captures a world where cultural diversity exists primarily on the op-ed pages of the Times. Nonetheless, it is a real world.

Matt Damsker is an author and critic, who has written about photography and the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Hartford Courant, Philadelphia Bulletin, Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. His book, "Rock Voices", was published in 1981 by St. Martin's Press. His essay in the book, "Marcus Doyle: Night Vision" was published this past November.