Who Else Wants Some Good News about those Boxes of Deteriorating Family Photos?

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It’s a unique mix of magic and anxiety. It’s a moment of truth. It’s a feeling unlike any other. It’s an experience called NOSTALGIA. When we discover old family photos, we are given a passport to a place called memory. This experience is powerful – everyone can relate to it. Have you ever opened a closet in your parents’ house and found a box crammed full of family albums and 4×6 prints? Maybe you found older photographs, like Kodachromes and Kodak Brownie prints with lovely little scalloped edges? The first thought that often comes to mind when we find family photos is, “how do I even begin to organize these?!” Feeling overwhelmed is normal; piles of old photos seem daunting. But they’re important. In fact, they are irreplaceable artifacts of our family history. So who else wants some good news about those boxes of deteriorating family photos? Well, here you go: it’s easier than you think to preserve them! Here’s how an art director and a photographer preserved their family photos simply by sharing them.

Although there can be some resistance to sharing family photos publicly, it’s often the best way to kickstart a preservation project. In fact, sharing family memories is one way to reconnect with your loved ones and celebrate your family’s legacy. Simply creating a gallery that’s accessible to your family can be the first step to preserving priceless photos. In fact, opening up your family archives often opens hearts and minds. When Adam Pratt, longtime Adobe team member and family historian, waded into his family photos and started posting them on Flickr, something amazing happened: his family relationships improved. Here’s his experience, in his own words:

I am the adult child of divorced parents, and the fact that I come from a broken family is a pretty good metaphor for our family photo archives. My dad had some, my mom had some, I had some, and my sisters had some. They were in albums, boxes, envelopes, and there were even handfuls of loose negatives in water-damaged boxes, covered in dust and mold. As I embarked on a journey to recover them, I learned firsthand how family photos can help you reconnect with loved ones and restore relationships.

Adam isn’t the only one who reconnected with his family history – and family members – by digitizing and sharing his analog photos. Following are two inspiring examples of families who discovered more about each other, and their shared history, by taking time to digitize and share their old photos.

Memory Lines – uncovering a family’s photographic gifts.

When Texas-based photographer Amy Jasek found her Grandfather’s wallet in a box of family papers, she stopped in her tracks. The wallet was well-preserved, with her Grandfather’s driver’s license tucked into a small window inside the worn leather. Amy had always considered herself the family historian, archivist, memory keeper, documentarian and photo organizer. But seeing her grandfather’s wallet, with his kind eyes gazing back at her, triggered something powerful in Amy. She felt transported back to her childhood, to the first decade of her life. She remembered how much of her life had been documented in photos, and how many photos her family had tucked away in boxes.

It’s funny how memory can appear out of nowhere and take your breath away; I was so shocked that I couldn’t really process it until later that evening, when I found myself in tears at the kitchen sink. I am tracing lines that run in the blood, lines that transfer passions and dreams, stretching straight and true through generations, carried along by memory.

She started digging into her family’s old albums, eagerly viewing each photo with a different perspective. What Amy discovered was that photographic talent ran in her family. Her love of photography came from somewhere much deeper – from genetic gifts. The photos Amy found were not the typical snapshots that usually adorn albums. They were well-composed, carefully thought out, artistic images. They were sensitively captured moments, filled with soul. Amy suspects it was her grandmother behind the camera, capturing moments in her family’s life.

The photos have the look of a woman’s eye, and by her own account she was often on her own with the three boys while my grandfather was at work. It all makes sense to me now. Grandma always had a camera on her when I was growing up. She loved picking up photos from the lab and showing them to me. It’s an enormous piece of knowledge for me, suddenly understanding where it all began.

When Amy asked her dad to inspect the prints and negatives, he confirmed her hunch: Grandma was the picture maker. Amy was thrilled to make such a significant connection to her grandmother.  For Amy, photography runs in the family. Her dad is also a photographer, who taught Amy everything she knows. When Amy realized that her passion for photography originated even father back – to her grandmother and great grandparents, she felt emboldened and encouraged to continue documenting her own family’s daily life.

Grandpa’s Photos – an art director’s tribute to his grandfather’s photographic legacy.

When he happened upon a cabinet filled with stunning snapshots from around the world, art director Dave Tomkins set out on a mission to discover more about his grandfather’s globetrotting adventures. But Dave’s grandpa couldn’t remember when or where he took the photos. From Europe to Asia, Dave’s grandpa Stephen Clarke had accumulated a treasure trove of artfully-composed photos from a lifetime of travels. But with age came memory-loss. Since Dave’s Grandpa wasn’t able to recall the details, Dave decided to take the images to a worldwide audience – the internet. Soon, one hundred of the best photos from that cabinet were posted online for the world to see.

The outcome was a gorgeous website, Grandpa’s Photos, dedicated to Dave’s grandpa and the photos he captured during his many trips. Through the unique site, Dave and his grandpa were able to solve many mysteries behind the pictures. Strangers chimed in, offering up information about where and when each photo may have been taken.

He was great at so many things. One of those was being a Grandpa. He was a World War II Air Force navigator, a husband, a Dad and we also discovered he was a great photographer. Grandpa worked his way up numerous management roles to be a buyer at a small jewelry franchise in Australia called “Prouds Jewelers.” In this job he was lucky enough togo overseas a few times to visit suppliers. Along the way he’d always take his trusty Voigtlander camera. Each time he retuned home he’d give the family a slideshow of the photos.

The way Dave and Amy are honoring their grandparents is inspiring. By simply sharing photos online, they are celebrating their grandparents’ vision. They are ensuring that a piece of them lives on, for years to come. So many of us who want to learn more about our loved ones and their lives. Photographs give glimpses into worlds beyond our immediate memories; we see our family members as they were, before we came along. Perhaps all of us should be sharing more of our family photos, asking for clues about them, tapping into the power of collaboration that the internet opens up to all of us? How are you discovering more about your family history through photos? We would love to hear from you!
Rachel LaCour Niesen, Founder of Save Family PhotosAbout the author: Rachel LaCour Niesen Steward of Stories & Founder of Save Family Photos, is a Yankee by birth but a Southern storyteller at heart. When a much-loved uncle gifted her with her first SLR camera, Rachel found her calling in photography. In pursuit of her passion, she headed to the University of Missouri, where she studied Photojournalism and Art History. When she’s not curating vintage family photos, she enjoys adventures with her husband and partner in entrepreneurship, Andrew Niesen.


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