By Bruce Summers, Personal Historian, Summoose Tales
I recently learned about Save Your Photos Day – This concept resonated with me. Please share this link with friend, families, and colleagues.
As a Personal Historian I interview clients and help them write and share their personal histories and life stories. I often find/discover photos in drawers, in boxes, perhaps on a wall, in a trunk, in an album, maybe on a CD, or a computer file (with no back-up).
They are often singular records of a moment in time. As families grow and succeeding generations disperse these photos are often at risk.
- They may be lost in transition, during a rushed move, a down-sizing, or during a disaster such as a flood or a house fire.
- Will the photo and its context be lost after the client dies. Will it become just a great photo with no story, no history, and no memories connected?
Case 1: Two of my early personal history clients had a combined total of almost 200 years of memories when they died. The good news, I had already interviewed them. I had audio tapes and hundreds of pages of transcripts with their memories and stories. The even better news was that I had re-shot or scanned, edited and digitized over 300 of their photos. The words, from the audio tapes, provided personal and historical context to the photos. The photos animated my clients’ stories and reflections. The photos made my clients’ personal history and memories come alive.
I converted these photos into a PowerPoint presentation for use at the couple’s memorial service after they both died last fall. Their daughter used some of the pictures for a photo display at the service. The others were featured as looped slide show next to the display.
As the family personal historian I stood and watched the photos cycle through. A grandson in his 20s watched and asked questions. His uncle commented, “I have never seen a lot of these”. I could provide context from my interviews and from captions I included in the manuscript of the couple’s personal history.
A few lessons learned:
- Before the couple died, while they were living in a senior community in nursing care, their family needed to quickly clear out one floor of their home so it could be rented to a friend. Framed photos came down, drawers were emptied, boxes and albums were removed from locations were they had resided for 30 to 50 years. Challenges: the photos could have been lost in transition and in context. The good news: I had already preserved many of them digitally, with their original context and stories.
- The family had several albums with a year by year history in photos from their father’s 100th birthday celebration. Challenges: there is only one copy and the family is disbursed across the United States and in Australia. The good news: we have over 300 photos that have been digitized and can be shared in context with the extended family.
Case 2: Another client made over 300 quilts after she retired from teaching. Her stories and memories of quilt making came alive as we looked through her album of intricately designed and beautifully crafted quilts. Most of these have been given away to family and friends or donated for good causes. We also recorded her memories of travel and vacations with her now deceased husband. Again the photos animated the stories making these memories come alive.
A few lessons:
- Artists should take photos of their portfolio, organize them, store and share them. Challenge: my client only owns a handful of the quilts she spent thousands of hours crafting, she had a portfolio of pictures but had not shared the stories and details about their creation. The good news: during my interview we digitized and reviewed her portfolio of pictures of many of these quilts. The interview transcripts combined with the pictures provided tremendous insights into this client’s passion and artistic gifts. Looking at the pictures, she was able to recall and share rich details about why and how she created a unique design tailored for each quilt recipient.
Case 3: Making your own personal history come alive. I have recorded over a hundred hours of personal history digital audio tape with my parents, and more recently as part of a Family Reunion Show and Tell. As I start to share these personal history stories I feel compelled to include photos. The good news is that I have started taking more photos when I am in my home town, while I walk around my parent’s home, and as I explore photos and relics in my parents’ basement. The bad news is that most of my parent’s photos are not digitized, many of the older family photo albums have not always been put into context. This photographs are at risk of becoming lost memories and forgotten stories. More good news though my cousins, aunts and uncles brought photo albums to the family reunion including albums collected by their parents, we heard dozens of new stories, collectively we could identify “lost relatives”. We now know who great-great-uncle William was, the one who died during aunt Margaret’s childhood visit to her grandmother’s house 80 years ago. We also know the same aunt Margaret stole my aunt Joan’s boyfriend. This was all revealed as part of the Family Reunion Show and Tell sessions that I facilitated.
A few lessons:
- Take lots of digital photos of friends, family, of trips, the seasons of the year, of sunrises, and sunsets, and of important objects that you or loved ones have collected. Re-shoot or scan, edit and file older family photos, connect them with context, stories and memories. Challenges: create a master list of photos that you want to preserve, or that illustrate and provide context or captions to personal history and life stories that you have recorded. Taking the time to do this is often a challenge. Digital photos are easy to take, one trip may yield 200 or more digital pictures and we often forget to go through them and organize or curate the ones we want to preserve and share. The good news is that professional photo organizers and personal historians can help.
- The other good news: you can also participate in or organize your own local Save Your Photos Day – September 27, 2014 or hire a personal historian to organize a Family Reunion Show and Tell.