One of my favorite things to do at work is to go through old photos. There is something exciting about seeing how life used to be. Sometimes, just looking at old photos give you more of the story than simply a picture of great-grandma or great-grandpa looking sternly into the camera. What’s going on in the background? In old photos, sometimes everyday life photobombs the main subject. We can learn so much just by looking at these pictures.
So, where did I discover my love for old photographs? It’s all due to my family. Back when I was a kid, cameras required film rather than simply a phone. While more pictures are probably taken today than ever before, most are throwaway shots that only grace the pages of Facebook or Instagram. In 10, 20, 30 years or more from now, where will these pictures be? In the meantime, those of us who lived through the generations of film will have real, physical photos to thumb through.
There used to be a box in my parent’s closet that was full of family photos. It was a whole gamut of pictorial history of our family. There were some from before I was born, going through to the new millennium. Occasionally, I would ask Mom or Dad if we could get the pictures out and look through them. So, out would come the box, and into the middle of the living room it would come. We’d pull out an envelope that Mom had so carefully labelled with dates (and sometimes places).
It’s special to look through those old pictures. Seeing glimpses of times you can’t quite remember fill our head with questions. Why were we at Grandma’s house? Well, we lived there. Where was grandma? Arizona. I always asked lots of questions. There is no better way to learn your family history.
It was a fairly large box. My family liked taking pictures, apparently. They took snaps of everything. My Dad liked shots of his cars and motorcycles. Mom took everything else. We could spend a couple hours on a weekend evening looking through all of them. It was a special family event.
Several years ago while my parents were in Florida, a screw got caught in the bottom of the sump pump in their basement. There were a couple inches of water on the floor when they came home. I had just been over there checking a couple days before and there was no water. In those two days, the basement flooded with that little bit of water. Guess what got wet? Our family photos.
We were all devastated. Most of the pictures were ruined. It was like ripping our history apart. Luckily, the negatives were salvageable. They were all given to me. I have a scanner that can make them back into photographs. I haven’t done it yet. It’s a time consuming project that I may do in little bursts as I find the time. Again, though, we are back to a digital medium. We’ve lost the old photos, with that distinct smell and physical reality. Maybe someday, I will not only scan the negatives, but also take them to be reprinted. It would have to be a few at a time. Otherwise it would be really expensive. However, our family heirlooms are more than worth it.
When my grandmother died, I was given the negatives from her house too. Very rarely, we would pull out the screen and the slide projector and look at slides from when my mother and her brothers were growing up. They were always so interesting. Views from around the outside of the house changed so dramatically from what seemed to us as kids as an unchanging display. The long view of the history of the family was just as fascinating. Again, someday, I will have to work on getting those negatives remade. She has some of those disk-camera negatives that will have to go to a place like Delaware Camera to be reproduced. The older ones are by far the most interesting ones.
One of the nicest things about having the physical photos is that you can label them for future generations. Now, if I can get the pictures scanned, we can plan a family gathering so that some of the stuff I’m unfamiliar with can be labeled, especially the oldest ones from my grandmother’s house. I would hate to lose all that vital information.
So, here’s the public service announcement segment of this week’s “Reminiscing.” If you have old photos hanging around the house, or at your Mom and Dad’s or grandparent’s house, please make sure they are stored safely. And please, please make sure they are labeled. If they are already labeled, make sure they have the person’s name on them. Aunt Tilly will mean nothing to future generations. Mark them “Matilda Smith, sister of….” This will give later generations a frame of reference.
All pictures are important, even the ones of gardens or parades. They help set the stage of what our family members were doing at certain times in their lives. That is as equally as important as the photos themselves.
So, now it’s up to you to invite the kids over, pull out the old albums and have a family moment. It really is a lot of fun.
Craig Bacon is just as guilty as everybody else of not printing out his digital photos. He needs to work on that and do it right.