LINDA DUVALL Visual and Media Artist

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Babies that Look Alike 1991, 1994

Newspaper baby photos have the style and signs of family photos, but when seen in the context of grainy newspaper reproductions, lose such distinctions as gender, race, or cultural uniqueness. Rather, such elusive and transitory qualities as the shape of the head at birth, quantity of hair, and eyes being open or closed become more visually significant. Through the organization of babies into these latter categories, one is forced to reconsider the implications of other more commonly accepted divisions later imposed on these same babies.

In the Windsor Birth Announcements project, I have divided these announcements into various categories such as Babies That Look Alike, References To Hockey, Babies With Grandparents Smiling Down From Heaven, etc. By my organization, I have altered the stories that surround these baby photographs.

The utilization of family narratives and family photos sometimes assumes a lack of objectivity. This project shows some kinds of issues that may be validly illuminated through an in-depth examination of family photos. In addition, this work invites a questioning of the assumption of neutrality surrounding images that are in the context of the mass media. By my organization and recontextualization of these announcements, I have altered both the kind of audience, and the context in which any audience will frame these images.

These announcements demonstrate aspects of very specific family circumstances. When seen as a group, they also point to societal evolutions, such as changes in birth control practices, make-up of the nuclear family, and attitudes towards and expectations of children at the end of the 20th century.

Archive assumes organization and categories. The challenge for the artist, as it is for the scientist, is to question not only the ensuing results, but also the categories themselves. The validity of the conclusions depends on the biases inherent in the questions and the categories.

The above work is described in Who's Looking at the Family by Val Williams (p. 27)
"Alien to conventional notions of childhood too are Linda Duvall's photographs of Babies That Look Alike. Duvall has combed a local newspaper in Canada, The Windsor Star, to find birth notices of new-born infants whose faces appear exactly alike. She has observed how new parents have promoted these unformed beings to the status of adults by predicting their future careers. She has also noted the detailed naming of family members within the text of these notices, an affirmation of the process of lineage. Duvall's Babies That Look Alike confound our notions of the individuality of the infant persona. Frighteningly identical, they invade our consciousness like creatures from outer space."