I have been going through a collection at work which holds many photographs. The former owner of the items, recently deceased, has all sorts of photos for reference and for personal purposes. All of them have inspired me to want to go home, grab my art supplies, and create. I am usually too tired for that upon arriving to my home. The objects and photos are also forcing me to contemplate my own personal, familial history and its preservation. What will happen to the photos that are in this relatives home, or even our home? How will they be preserved? Will the stories that go along with them be remembered accurately and told with equal enthusiasm (read embellishment) in the future?
A few weeks ago, I embarked on a small digital preservation project with a group of slides that dated before to a few years before I was born. Seeing my cousins when they were children, my aunt and uncle much younger, and my mom and dad, younger still, was mind blowing You never carefully contemplate what their lives were like prior to your arrival on the scene, or prior to your first memories, which for most of us start around 3 years of age. I sometimes wondered what people’s lives were like before you were there to impact them. It certainly is not something that consumes us, though. We are far too concerned about the here and now.
Looking at my parents and relatives, some of the body language and facial expressions were much the same. In general, though, it was fun to see my parents, more relaxed, new to love, newly married, new home builders, new teachers, new travelers, new to everything. Fresh faced does not begin to describe it.
I am kind of blowing up one of my Christmas surprise by posting about this now as my mother subscribes to my blog, but I think the big picture of preserving our family photographs is a very important one. This first project is only the beginning. At work, I am throwing away photos in this collection that are unattributed because no one cared to write anything on the back, or I have no one to send them to because the collection of papers, photos, and artwork was donated by a friend and executor to the estate. We cannot pass up the information gathering opportunities we have with earlier generations. Not only must we tell the stories, but we must also go over the records together. The photos, receipts, letters, business cards, and other artifacts that are representations of human beings living their lives. We must write the stories of our ephemera and keep that information alongside the artifacts.
What better time to do this kind of work than during this holiday season, when many of us will visit with relatives. Generations of people will be under the same roof, some of us suffering through the jolly of the season, but nonetheless loving and suffering together. Perhaps, during that time, photobooks and documents may surface, stories may be told, and history preserved for the future.