Next time you attend a family dinner, picnic, church social, or wedding, look closely at the people who are present. I suspect you will see a broader range of ethnicities, ages, and social relationships than you might initially imagine. You will see traditional parent-grandparent-child combinations, brother and sisters, and a variety of cousins. But, you will also see a number of modern innovations and extensions to the concept of "family," that are not well documented or well-represented in stock libraries such as ours.
For instance, it is increasingly common for people to remain friends with their ex-spouse and/or his or her family, following a divorce. That may mean that the "father" who is giving away the bride could be the legal one, the original one, or the current one (if you know what I mean). Some people are closer to their ex-in-laws than they are to the blood relative who used to be the connection. Children seem to circulate freely, among their many step fathers, step mothers, step uncles and step aunts. Children are also sometimes cared for by half brothers or half sisters. If the adults in the family have changed partners enough times, it is possible for young people to consider themselves "brother" or "sister" to someone with whom they have no blood relationship, at all.
We seem to be recruiting other types of unrelated people into our extended families. For instance, I have one friend who has had the same home helper for more than eight years. Her children consider the woman to be a member of the family. Why not? She has been there for them, as long as they can remember. There is no clear name for her relationship to her family. She is not a maid, a nanny, or despite the sensationalism around polygamy (as in HBO's "Big Love") a "junior wife." Most modern families with children, have integrated a variety of supporting adults into their lives. These can include coaches, teachers, neighbors, and distant relatives. One would hope and expect these children will return the love and protection they have received, as their "babysitter" ages.
Some older people, who have no one to care for them, hire full time or part time care-giving companions. These people often develop a relationship that is similar to those the older person had with his or her children. I have read of several cases where the older person preferred the companion to his or her children--and left his or her estate to the companion. I believe we will see more and more situations like this, as our fertility drops, our population ages, and the number of seniors who have no children to care for them grows.
One final member of the extended family...pets! Many people treat their pets as family members. When my sister goes on a trip, she calls her husband and asks him to hold the phone out so she can "talk to the dogs." Look at the explosion in clothing, toys, spa treatments and even vacations for pets.
Part of the problem may be a naming issue. Is the half brother of your half brother (someone you have no genetic relationship with) your "quarter brother" or your "non-brother brother?" Is the man who cleans your grandfather's house, cooks his meals, and read books to him a "surrogate son," a "nurse," or a "personal assistant?" None of these terms indicate that the kindness, understanding, and intimacy, of these relationships is more than mere "friendship."
If you have followed some of the links that I sprinkled through this post, you will see that we do not have enough images of this trend in our file. It has taken stock agencies years to catch up the changes introduced to our society by internationalization, alternate lifestyles and multi-ethnicity. Those who started working in these areas early, eventually saw huge demand for their work from advertisers and publishers, when they eventually woke up to these trends.
I'd love to see our artists at the forefront of the effort to document and describe the extended family. As you work with your models, ask them about their families. Look for relationships that go beyond the traditional. You will find that many are among the most rewarding and important relationships, in the lives of your subjects. If you can capture these human connections with the cold glass your lens, please document them carefully and sensitively in the captions your provide us. The words may look clumsy, when you write them down, but advertisers and publishers must eventually realize that most of us have an extended family. They will find out that we care about these family members and that we recommend products to them, buy them things, and think of them when we make plans. When this news sinks in, there will be a rush to understand the dynamics of these relationships and the influences they bring to buying, lifestyle, and modern thought.