Stranger Than Family
Project info

Stranger Than Family is an intimate quest for identity and authenticity in a “self-made” American family.

Between 1988 and 2002, Pamela and Michael Avignone created a family of five children, adopting them from South-Korea and India. For each adoption, the same initial ritual takes place: they gathered to Chicago’s O’Hare International airport to meet the child, take him or her in their arms and go home together to Southern Illinois.

The book begins as a reactivation of this past in which the viewer follows the photographer’s rhythm. Snapshots, documents describing “the social history” of the children, and passports are the clues that let the viewer apprehend an unknown but somehow familiar history.

For the past five years, to overcome this urge of memory, the photographer-narrator—who is the family’s eldest son & brother—has been turning his camera to his family’s contemporary life. Physically absent from the photographs, as a stranger to his own family, he creates a fiction in images: a “typical” American middle-class family living in the Midwest.

The hyper-normality of the scenes—summer barbecue, Thanksgiving, the mowing of the lawn-mowing, Fourth of July fireworks —, reveals rather than masks the inner-self of this “self-made” family, of any other family. The truth is to be found through the invisible links that bind the characters, the scenes and the photographs to one another.

The minor life events are as meaningful as any major life events: Brother Nick builds a house of return labels—the symbolic home we all long to return to—; Sister Jamie is giving life to a little girl—the first blood birth in a family self-made by former strangers—, the inflatable swimming-pool is one of the reasons that made Pamela & Michael decided to welcome three more children into the family ; the psychedelic shapes and colors are from a rug displayed in a restaurant where the parents met a young adult—adopted from South Korea in United States—who gave them the confidence to build a family of their own through adoption.

In between banality and beauty, ordinary and weirdness, Stranger than Family is revealed as a story of love in which individuals, by standing together, create a common history.