Preserving the Past For Future Generations Through Photos

Monday, March 29, 2021

 Printed photos.....remember those....before cameras became digital and all of our photos took residence on our computers and phones?  I'm old enough to remember printed photos.  In fact I come from a long line of serious history keepers and I think most of you know that the love of photography didn't skip my gene pool.  And that love, that passion, like most serious addictions, leads to a rather large collection of photographs spanning decades.

Growing up, our house was often the Sunday afternoon gathering place.  On many of those afternoons, after dinner, and sometimes after a holiday meal, the family would sit around the dining room table perusing photo albums, reminiscing about the 'good 'ole days'.   The stories flowed and memories were brought to life, sometimes repeatedly over the years.  I'm thankful for those times, those family members, who not only took the photos but so generously shared the history behind each one.  As an only child, only grandchild and in some cases, only niece, I have been fortunate enough to inherit a large collection of photos from both sides of my family, many dating back to the early 1900's.  My great aunts (who were married to my grandfather's brothers) were both meticulous when it came to recording who the photo subject was, the year it was taken and sometimes even the place it was taken.  Neither of these women had children, so that probably accounts for their attention to detail (and available time).  My mom also took a great many photos over the years, as did her sister and her mom.  Unfortunately they were less dedicated to labeling... which in some instances creates a bit of a mystery-solving task.    Then when I was old enough to be interested, I also jumped on the photography wagon. 

 My interest included both people and places and my passion for landscape photography and sunsets peaked in my early 20's.  Over the last 40+ years, I've acquired a rather embarrassingly massive amount of photos - not to mention all those I've inherited.  To my credit, I'll say that my collection was housed in albums, chronologically beginning in the late 1960's through about 2012.  My albums (over 20, each housing 100-200 photos) were packed with thousands of captured milestones and memories but also a lot of mediocre, repetitious or irrelevant photos.  Ya'll know what I'm talking about.  Those inferior shots that we kept after developing - because they were 'better than nothing', the kid looked too cute to not save the photo, or that shot that I took several versions of, etc... Then there was the box of photos that contained duplicates from the days of 'buy one set, get one set free', and the random photos that got plucked from their sleeve for some project and were never refiled.  So you've got the idea.....I've amassed a ridiculous collection of photos that needed some serious attention.  That's where the first project began.

Pippa found the entire process exhausting.

First I went through every album and plucked the photos that weren't worthy of saving - the dups, the blurs, the multiples, the squirrel at the birdfeeder, etc. Once I finished going through all those albums,  I was left with hundreds (not kidding, 100's) of empty spaces throughout every album. Next,  I sorted all the duplicate photos and photos that needed to be rehomed and organized them all by date. I then proceeded to re-file them in their appropriate album, and true duplicates were set aside for each of our girls to add to their own collections.  Once all the orphaned photos were filed or discarded, I still had hundreds of empty slots in all of the albums.  Literally, I threw away hundreds of photos.  The ocd in me couldn't possible live with albums with so many blank spaces so next I began the job of shifting photos forward, slot by slot, so that no empty slots remained. This task, though long and tedious, allowed me to eliminate at least 4 small (6" x 6") albums that held 100 photos and 3 larger albums that once held 200 photos that had ripped sleeves or broken bindings.  Two tattered albums were replaced with new albums. Eliminating these albums freed up a lot of shelf space.  Once that job was finished, I added a label to each album indicating the dates photos within included.  Looking for a photo now will be easy peasy.  You can see my assistants were not exactly carrying their weight.

The next portion of the photo project involved all the inherited photos.   I sorted these into piles of each 'family member' ....

and then scanned them onto my computer (you know, to join the bazillion of other photos that already live there).  I restored a bunch of faded or damaged ones and then filed them all by 'member'.  I then saved all the originals photos in envelopes I purchased on Amazon, labeled each envelope and tucked them all in a pretty storage box for quick and easy viewing (the old fashioned way).

I also bought large, zippered envelopes (also on Amazon) to store all the 5 x 7" and 8 x 10" photos I had tucked away....having swapped them from frames for more current photos, or tucked in my hope chest, or in closets. I labeled these envelopes too so now when I have random photos they can be easily filed in their appropriate place. I purchased scrapbooking storage boxes from Michael's for under $6.00. The bags fit perfectly and the boxes can stack on a shelf.

This was a huge project and I'm grateful that I had some help from John and the girls. Finally I have all the old, cherished ancestry photos sorted and scanned, filed and labeled and my photo albums are filled with only the best, most interesting photos.  Currently I'm exploring the family ancestry and when that is complete, my plan is to print photo books that will feature the old photos along with stories of those that came before me.  My only regret is that I didn't get this job done while relatives were still alive to answer questions and bring their photos to life.  If, like me, you have a sea of unattended photos tucked away in various drawers and boxes, now would be a good time to round them all up and get them labeled.  I'd give anything to know who the men with my Great Grandfather are in the photo below.  He's the man with suspenders sitting in front.  I have to believe this crew has a story or two!  Our photos, our stories, our memories are all we have of our life story and the story of those who came before us.  If you're lucky enough to be the owner of someone's story, it's up to you to make sure that story lives on for future generation.  One day someone will wish they knew your story....start writing it now.  

Well, I hope this inspired you to tackle this or some other project that's been looming. This was a big job, one I'm thrilled to have finished but I have thousands of digital files awaiting the same process. If you need me.....I'll be at my computer deleting and sorting digital files.

Coming Out of My Hiatus After a Little Reboot

Sunday, March 21, 2021

 Sometimes the best way to recharge is to unplug.

Isn't that the truth!  I figured this out for myself recently and in the process of 'unplugging,' I learned that unplugging actually recharged me in a way I didn't even realize I needed to be recharged.  That says a lot, especially coming from someone who loves the connection that being plugged in allows - through social media, through my blog and through text.  After the holidays, after a year of Covid, after an election year...I found myself feeling deflated.  I had no emotions left; I'd used them up, every last one of them.  I know I was not alone on this emotional island but I felt like I was.  I'd even lost my passion for road trips and shooting photos.  We'd head out, and about 15 minutes from home, I'd want to turn around and come home.  I just couldn't find my mojo.  I recognized that when the things that used to spark my enthusiasm couldn't light me up, it was time for a reboot and that's when I decided to step away from what little outside stimulation I had left after Covid and take a break to look within.

Some might assume I spent that time quietly contemplating life or journaling or soul searching, but on the contrary.  It was pretty action packed and productive really.  I tackled a variety of those tasks that have lived on my 'to-do' list for too know, those things that you dream of doing laying awake late at night....the things that exist in your mind, in the dark, when other distractions aren't demanding your attention.  I crossed a bunch of those off my list, some big jobs like cleaning and reorganizing the basement, and some smaller tasks like cleaning out all the kitchen and desk drawers, reorganizing the bedroom closets, and a huge revamp of thousands of printed photos.  Everyone has their own personal way of recharging and refocusing and for me, this time away from social media and the frustration and distraction that came with that, gave me time not only to tend to neglected chores but time to look within and get back in touch with who I was before Covid. 

 This past year has been anything but normal for anyone.  It has challenged even the sanest of sane, the mightiest of mighty, the optimism of even the most optimistic.  While my life was pretty unaffected by Covid in a day-to-day way, eventually the global mood, the absence of normal life, the news, and the reality of life caught up to me.  The reality was.....none of it felt real.  The politics that were impossible to ignore didn't help.  I reached my breaking point, like so many.  I needed to step back, step away from the noise and reconnect with myself, not the person that 2020 had molded me into, but the person I was prior to 2020. 

I figured some things out during my hiatus from social media.  First, I really missed my Facebook friends and I missed sharing photos.  It's not nearly as much fun taking photos if there's no one to enjoy them with me.  Second, while I missed my connections, I didn't miss the noise, the negativity, the garbage that is also a part of social media.  I found that there's enough of that in everyday life without adding to it online.  I found that while it's not difficult to scroll past the junk, it's even easier to avoid it altogether by not spending so much time glancing at my newsfeed.  Like most things that were invented to make life easier, help us live in the fast lane, social media comes with its own flaws and blessings.

We took a ride yesterday, our first real road trip in ages, and as always happens when we drive around the countryside, sometimes without speaking, just taking in the view, each in our own thoughts, the barren landscape reminded me of something.  In the winter, the landscape (at least in NY) is covered in white.  The snow blankets the brown, dormant vegetation, covering what would otherwise look dismal and ugly with a bright, clean blanket.  We forget that life beneath this pretty disguise is actually quite a contrast to what is visible on the surface. Under that beautiful white facade is something more like this....

 Just like in life....what we see is not always the reality.  Often beneath the surface, the smiles, the outer appearance we let others see exists a reality that is not unlike the brown, barren landscape of early spring.  Reality isn't always pretty, yet society and social media encourage us to hide what isn't pretty, what isn't 'presentable' and put on a pretty face.  I think after 2020, we all feel a little barren and dismal, and a little dormant.  Maybe you've kept your mood to yourself, covered it with a blanket of forced smiles as you struggled to navigate, one day after the next.  Then it happens.  The snow melts and the truth is exposed.  It isn't pretty and initially it isn't looking optimistic. The veil has been lifted, and we can no longer hide behind it.  That's when we need a reminder, a reminder that this dormancy, this bland, brown landscape isn't permanent.  We aren't stuck in this reality.  There are reminders everywhere that there's life after pain, rainbows after the rain.  The brown landscape that fills our view will slowly come alive, the world around us is slowing beginning to pulse again.  Finally, after what seems like an eternity, we have a glimmer of hope that the storm cloud that has been hovering over us is slowly beginning to pass.  The brown, dormant world outside our window will soon do what it has done every year in history.  It will come to life again and before we know it, the view around us will be lush and green, brimming with new life reminding us that we must not give up. There is hope.  At this moment though, the brown landscape is a blank canvas.  It's a clean slate, a reboot of the next phase.  We get to be the artist on this canvas.  We get to choose the palette and decide what comes next.  I think if Covid taught us anything, it taught us not to take life for granted.  It helped us open our eyes and take inventory.  It helped us see what we could live without, helped us appreciate the value of a hug, the company of our friends, and the immeasurable comfort the closeness of loved ones provides.  It made us realize we are the Captain of our own destinies and it's time we take control. It's time we come out of isolation and embrace life.  I'm grateful to have emerged from my hiatus recharged and renewed and am so pumped about all I (we) were able to accomplish. I'm excited to get out and take photos again, and I plan to share them on social media but I plan to keep a low profile and limit my online activity going forward to a level that allows me to stay connected to my friends but doesn't overtake my time or sanity.  I hope that spring finds you feeling hopeful and refreshed and ready to take a deep breath.  We made it through another cold winter and now it's time to emerge and fly!  

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