Family portraits from the 1960s and 1970s have been a source of inspiration for contemporary Chinese artists. In recent experimental works, many artists have used family portraits to reinvent the very ideas of the camera, the album, and the familial gaze as vehicles of longing, remembering, and contesting. This article pursues the prehistory of these images to critically address the recollection and reinvention of familial ties and bloodlines in contemporary Chinese art. The article studies a group of photographs taken during the second half of the Cultural Revolution, the early and mid-1970s, that define the “family portrait [quanjiafu]” as an important cultural genre, in dynamic contrast to photographic propaganda of the same period. Prior to the entrance of contemporary experimental artists, there was a subtle attempt to turn the photographic medium into narratives of personal histories, to locate and reinvent a “past” that was still very much the present. While recent studies of visual culture in postsocialist or post-Holocaust societies focus on “postmemory,” this article examines the mechanisms of materializing and restructuring personal memory that were in place before the Cultural Revolution had drawn to an end.

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