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The Spirit of Family by Al and Tipper Gore


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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256,000 Words

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, you can find 256,000 words in part two of Al and Tipper Gore’s recent book, The Spirit of Family. I picked over the companion volume, Joined at the Heart, but couldn’t quite muster the energy to read it. The Spirit of Family is all photos (except for an introduction), so it didn’t take very long to page through it the first time. A few days later, I lingered longer over each image. The Gores are right in that these pictures tell the story of the diversity of families in America today.

Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

We live our lives in the emotional universe of our families. Love, like gravity, is always there, holding us securely in place—even as we fall free.

In the beginning, when first there is light, we are entirely dependent on the warmth and nurturing energy of a bright star at the center of the circle that marks our days. The more we grow, the wider our gyre. But the pull of our origins is always, always a powerful if invisible force. At every stage of life, those who are closest to us—parents, brothers, and sisters; then husbands, wives, and partners; then daughters and sons—all tug at our orbit and bend our direction, some insistently, others more faintly. Families are reality, not invention. They are always present, always remembered, and always hoped for. They are much more than mere associations of individuals. They have a transcendent integrity of their own.

We shape and nurture our families and they shape and nurture us. And wherever we go in life, our families live in our hearts.

The two of us have long been interested in every aspect of family life, and in early 2001, we began researching a book about the dramatic changes occurring in American families. We soon realized that words alone would be insufficient to our task, so we decided to explore this endlessly fascinating topic using images as well. Two books ultimately emerged from our efforts: this collection of photographs and a book called Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family. In both, we have attempted to capture the essence of what family is and how families are changing.

With these remarkable photographs, we try to show that the spirit of family is neither abstract nor invisible. It can be felt in the indentation of a child's fingers in his foster mother's cheek; seen in the radiant smiles of aging sisters whose bonds with each other are always vital; and heard in the clamor and laughter of three generations crowded around a picnic table.

Each of the images in this book tells a story about family. And each of the families, whether happy or unhappy, is unique. But the spirit of family is in many ways the same for all of them—and for all of us. It is a spirit that can seem fleeting and elusive amid the bustle and noise of our daily lives. But it can be framed clearly in a frozen moment of time captured by a photographer who blends skill with patience and good fortune.

Seeing clearly is the job of photographers, and many of those whose work is included in The Spirit of Family have used the camera as a tool to help them understand the dynamics of family life and to explore the impact society has on these essential relationships. Indeed, many of America's finest photographers have long believed that the greatest subject for their craft is not wars or the dramatic events of history, but the way people interact with one another—how they touch; how they hold their children in their arms; how they get through their day with all the stress, strains, and joys that life hands them; how they deal with personal pain, illness, loss, and death; and how one generation relates to the next. In the course of preparing this book, we reached out across the United States and approached the widest possible range of American photographers, from established masters to graduate students in photography.

We specifically asked every photographer we contacted to review the images they've recorded that address the subject of family. The response was overwhelming, and we were pleased to discover that some of the most passionate and important—and, in many cases, unpublished—American photography dealt with just this topic.

Browsing through the pictures of The Spirit of Family didn’t make me want to read Joined at the Heart, but I did think about families, and the thoughts were pleasant.

Steve Hopkins, January 1, 2003


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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the February 2003 issue of Executive Times


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