William Wegman. Family Combinations. 1972

William Wegman

Family Combinations


Six gelatin silver prints
Each 12 7/16 x 10 3/16" (31.6 x 25.9 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Robert and Gayle Greenhill
Object number
© 2017 William Wegman
This work is not on view.
William Wegman has 161 works online.
There are 14,647 photographs online.

The top row of this tableau of six pictures represents, from right to left, Wegman, his mother, and his father. The bottom row consists of superimpositions of all possible combinations of any two of the three images above. The combinations resemble the sorts of pictures that once circulated as scientific illustrations of racial and social types. The humor of Wegman's tableau derives from the deadpan sincerity with which he has reenacted this absurd operation.

Photographs perform many banal functions in our everyday lives, so banal that we rarely stop to think about them. The head shots that appear on identity cards and drivers' licenses are good examples. In the early 1970s Wegman helped to lead an artistic movement that emulated the look of such photographs but short-circuited their functions. The idea was to invite us to consider the meanings we attach to these pictures, and so to explore our habits of thought and our social arrangements. Wegman's talent for comedy has been evident from the beginning, but it took a while to see that his playful wit is colored by kindness and warmth.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 273

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