"With fifty percent of American children living in something other than a married-couple family with both biological parents present, and with the tremendous variety of male and female responsibilities in today's different families, the time for abstract pronouncements about good or bad family structures and correct or incorrect parental roles is past. How a family functions is more important than its structure or its formal roles."
- Stephanie Coontz, Family Historian and Sociologist

Over the last century, the image of the "traditional" nuclear family has become the ideological cornerstone of American families as exemplified by Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers, and Norman Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers. As we approach the 21st century, however, it is clear that the archetypal "traditional" family, with its homemaker mother and breadwinner father, no longer represents the majority of American households, if indeed it ever did. Instead, it is just one of a growing number of household configurations that reflect the complexities of modern life.

The exhibit, American Families: Beyond the White Picket Fence, with its complementary web site celebrates the changing landscape of American families. Produced over a two-year period, the photographs examine the myths and truths of ten families striving to create healthy, nurturing environments. Each image provides a window into their lives, and offers an opportunity to broaden our understanding of how contemporary families function.

The documented families are complex and vibrant entities that exist far beyond the boundaries of sociological labeling. The families were discovered through the combined effort of friends, relatives, organizations, and strangers reaching out to their communities. Intrigued by the notion that their "ordinary" lives might offer a message for others, the families generously agreed to open their doors to me for three weeks of documentation. Through the exploration of ten households, this project pays tribute to the thousands of dynamic families who are redefining what it means to be a "21st century family" in America.

Healthy, stable families can and do take many forms, but there is no disputing that modern families also face countless challenges. Traditional families face pressure to embrace historical role models. Single parent families face life's obstacles with half the resources. Other families face continued discrimination because they do not conform to an archetypal family model. All families, however, regardless of their configuration, have the potential to create nurturing environments which strengthen our communities and encourage personal development.

It is my hope that by exploring each other's lives, we can find moments of common ground that transcend stereotype and judgment and create connection and understanding.

Courteney Coolidge