Who Else Thinks Family Photos are about more than moments?
Photographs mark significant moments in our life, our family and our history. But the power of photos goes beyond capturing moments; photos have the power to evoke emotions. Our family photos prompt memories and catalyze conversations. Even when a snapshot seems mundane and casual, it can be beautiful and significant. Each of our family photos, no matter how imperfect, evoke emotions that resonate deeply with us. Do you agree? Who else thinks family photos are about more than moments? I know I do.
For me, family photos have the power to evoke emotions like comfort, joy, familiarity and peace.
If you read my name before meeting me, you might be confused when you finally saw me. My last name is Hong, but I’m only one quarter Chinese. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to explain this, not that I particularly mind talking about my heritage. In fact, my unique blend of backgrounds is something I’m extremely proud of – I tell my family story joyfully. My dad is half Chinese, the child of a Chinese father and a European mother.
The black and white photo (above right) of my dad, grandfather (who we called Grampy), and uncle was taken in 1954 at my great grandfather’s Chinese restaurant, the Savoy Inn. In 1933, my great grandfather was one of the first people to open a Chinese restaurant on Long Island, New York. I’ve heard there was regularly a line out the door and around the block, full of hungry people waiting to order Chow Mein. How awesome is that?
Before seeing this photo, I had never seen such a youthful depiction of my grandfather, who passed away when I was very young. Since I never really got the chance to know him, this single family photo is even more meaningful to me. It showcases a simple, imperfect moment. Yet it evokes emotions of familiarity and pride. I suppose the innocence and irony of childhood is that everyone seems to last forever; you can’t comprehend that there are people whom you should savor and store for a later time. While I regret my naive, lackluster efforts to make the most of my brief time with my grandfather, I do feel more connected to him when looking at this photo.
It is profoundly comforting to have this artifact and archive of him.
Of course, this photo also evokes another valuable feeling: pride in our family traditions. During high school, my dad was employed as a cook at the Savoy Inn. He’s an incredible cook who makes authentic Chinese dishes without the use of any recipes or measuring cups. Aside from being delicious, my dad’s dishes have been a staple at our family gatherings. Even though our family is spread throughout the United States, our family dinners always feel like heartfelt reunions, as if no time has passed between our gatherings. That’s why I think this old photo in my great-grandfather’s restaurant was the beginning of our family tradition. It’s a wonderfully warm feeling to be reminded of family traditions, surrounded by people who understand your story and allow you to be yourself. It’s amazing how one old photo can help form our definition of family.
That’s why I proudly display this vintage photo on my wall alongside a lovely color photograph of my parents at their high school prom and a recent photo of my boyfriend and our dog. Together, these three photos span many generations yet evoke similar feelings of familiarity and peace. To me, these photos show what home is all about.
Family has always been my only consistent “home,” and more deeply discovering my roots is incredibly reassuring. I believe it’s empowering and comforting to know that you can create your own heritage, constructing it from pieces of your story. Family photos are a key ingredient in my story.
I admit, it can be hard to imagine that our current photos will ever be as fascinating as vintage photos, but that’s probably not for us to decide. One day, there may be a young girl like me, discovering her story, one photo at a time. That’s when the photos I’m creating now will have the most impact. They may help future generations shape their heritage and evoke emotions that remind them that family is the most important part of life.
Jess Hong is the co-founder of Macaroni Frames, an online gift service that prints, mats, frames and beautifully gift wraps your important photo memories. Macaroni Frames began in early 2014 in Los Angeles out of a desire to solve the dilemma of tricky gift giving. One thing that never gets old is reliving a memory with loved ones.