An Iranian migrant mother's production of selves through her family photograph collection

Year: 2012

Author: Pitt-Alizadeh, Penelope

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


In researching migrant identities, visual methodology offers much promise and yet there is a marked lack of recent research that makes use of visual methods. Previous studies of migrant identities have privileged verbal representations of identities. Gillian Rose's (2010) work with mothers and their family photographs in the United Kingdom, in which she describes the role of family photographs in both producing social subject positions and in maintaining family togetherness across distances, is a useful model for research into the construction and negotiation of migrant identities.

The literature on family photography suggests that it is usually the woman/mother who takes on the role of making the family photograph album; of narrating the family's story (Rose, 2010; Holland, 2009; 1991; Chambers, 2003). The family photograph collection, together with the participant's interwoven verbal interpretation, is a particularly relevant data source for use in identity research as there is the potential for key themes of place, mobilities and space to be explored at new depth and from a feminist perspective.

This paper will report on an ethics approved study of one Iranian migrant mother and her family photograph collection, focusing on her representation of the identities and subjectivities of herself and her children through photographs taken following migration to Australia. The paper will consider the participant's family photographs as both visual objects and visual-verbal narratives produced within historically and culturally situated discourses. It will explore how photographs and oral interpretations cohere to enable migrant mothers to re/produce selves. The paper will examine the production of subject positions specifically in relation to place, mobilities and space.

The research is situated within critical visual ethnography and is informed by a reflexive feminist approach. The meaning making of the photographs under study will be explored at the sites of production, image, and audience. The combined visual-verbal methods used in this study aim to provide a new contribution to the literature on migrant identities and form the basis of a scaled up research design of a larger cohort of mothers.