ROM Research: The Family Camera Network

Posted: April 11, 2017 - 12:45 , by ROM
#ROMFamCam, Family Camera, ROM Research | Comments () | Comment
Photo of three people in collection storage looking at a photo

The Family Camera Network is a SSHRC-funded, three-year research project that brings together over 25 researchers and 6 cultural and educational institutions to conduct a multi-partner scholarly study of family photographs. An important part of this project is creating public archives at the ROM and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives that will collect and preserve family photographs and their stories. We’ve invited Canadians to participate in the project by donating photographs and participating in recorded interviews, as we explore questions like: What are family photographs? How do they shape people’s memories? How do they mediate experiences of migration? What can they tell us about our national histories?

In one short year, The Family Camera Network has accomplished a lot!


Ground Work

We completed ethics reviews and created collecting kits, which include example questions and important forms. 

A row of paperwork

We purchased equipment to record the oral history interviews and established filming procedures.

intern with cameras

We hosted two workshops: first, an Oral History workshop for our collecting team on how to obtain informed consent and how to record oral histories, and second, a Vernacular Photography workshop with the Northeast Document Conservation Center for the staff and volunteers at our collecting institutions, which focused on identification and conservation of family photos.

a group sitting around the table

participants doing hands-on workshop with photos

We also developed a website where people can learn more about the project and where our collaborators share research related to family photography. 


Partnerships & New Opportunities

We are collaborating on a graduate-level Digital Futures course with OCAD U called Family Camera at the ROM

student presentation

We created opportunities for student interns, involving them in filming, digitizing, video-editing, and collections management. 

student taking photographs of photographs

We also planned the upcoming Reframing Family Photography conference, which was organized with the support of the Toronto Photography Seminar and will be hosted at the University of Toronto from September 21-23, 2017.



The ROM led the first round of collecting from July to December of last year. We conducted 22 oral history interviews, and collected over 10,000 photographs, 41 albums and around 385 other objects (including letters and government documents, slides, postcards, bibles with pressed flower petals, a kimono, hand-written accounts and other ephemera). These numbers reflect both loans and donations. This spring, the ROM will begin the second phase of collecting, and the CLGA will begin to collect in earnest.

two people looking at a photo album

The breadth of material is impressive. While nearly all the photos have come to us from Canadian homes, they reflect people and places from around the world. People have shared tintypes, gelatin silver prints, instant photographs, dye coupler prints, and even USB sticks packed with digital photos. We’ve worked with the ROM Registration and Conservation Departments, as well as with students from Ryerson’s Graduate Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management program to explore questions raised by diversity of materials in the collection. 

photos and letters

The digital photos that we have collected and the large video files from the interviews have caused us to think about the long-term preservation of born digital artifacts. Our Digital Consultant, Metadata Architect Julienne Pascoe, is collaborating with the ROM and the CLGA to develop digital preservation strategies and workflows for the project. Not only has this work given us the opportunity to collaborate and share knowledge within the institution, it has also helped us to connect to people in the community and to external specialists in various fields.


The Family Camera

Our next milestone is the The Family Camera exhibition, which opens at The Royal Ontario Museum on May 6th, and at the Art Gallery of Mississauga on May 4th. Stay tuned for more about this exciting exhibit, which looks at family photos through the lens of migration.


This blog is part of an ongoing series that reflects on the nature and meaning of family photos. It is related to The Family Camera Network project, a community archive project to collect and preserve family photographs with their stories. #ROMfamcam