Awkward Family Photos: Snap Judgments Come to History Colorado Center

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You know those horrible photos of you from years ago that you swore you’d never let see the light of day? The studio portraits of repulsive babies, dumb-ass dads and annoying aunties that disgrace hallways and adorn mantelpieces? Now they hang on museum walls – in this case, those of History Colorado, where more than 100 selections from the Awkward Family Photos collection will be displayed beginning Saturday, June 18.

The touring exhibition is already over two years old, a movable feast of photos from awkwardfamilyphotos.com, the site that childhood friends Mike Bender and Doug Chernack started in 2009. The site quickly became wildly popular, with dozens of awkward family photos submitted daily; the concept has spun off books and now this traveling show. Whether messed-up formal portraits, disturbing holiday snapshots or simply traumatizing memories captured forever, these are photos with which anyone can easily identify — and they're educational, too!
Brooke Gladstone, spokeswoman for History Colorado, regards the stories of our everyday lives as unmined riches that can be just as profitable to explore as more traditional history. “This is definitely along those lines,” she says of the exhibition. “We are diversifying our audience, creating some fun here. There’s an appropriate place for laughter in the galleries, too. And it’s social history: How we see ourselves is revealing.”

History Colorado asked for submissions from Coloradans to accompany the show. Five Colorado families are featured in the exhibit, and two of them have told their stories for History Colorado’s video blog.

“’A Day at the Beach,’ which is the signature photo for the exhibit, features a family from Castle Rock,” says Gladstone. The photo shows parents and two out-of-control toddlers falling into the sand while trying to force a carefree portrait. “Reach Out and Touch” features a wedding-day bride seeming to caress the backside of a distant handyman. ”Lucky for me, she has a sense of humor and allowed me to show it to you,’” says the Littleton woman who contributed that photo of the bride.
“The photos are grouped by theme – babies, grandparents and the like – and there are explanatory panels that give you some of the backstory on the various pieces,” says Gladstone.

And in case visitors want to get into the act, the museum has set up a do-it-yourself studio in one corner, so that you can take some awkward family photos yourself.

Awkward Family Photos: The Exhibition opens Saturday, June 18, at the History Colorado Center, 1200 Broadway. For more information, visit historycoloradocenter.org/exhibits/awkward-family-photos.

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