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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Memories Lost and Found

70 years of photos with some of the cameras that captured life.
Chris Brady

My mother gave me a shopping bag of old photos recently.  At age 89, her eyesight is so poor that the photos are just paper, faded memories of loved ones who have gone before her lost again to blindness.

It’s a big pile, probably a few hundred.  Many black and white of the small Kodak camera days  capture her childhood on through to married life. Fading color photos that document life from the 1960s to the 1980s are not holding up as well as the black and whites.  It’s fun to look through them, at her early life and mine, at aunts and uncles long gone from my life.  The responsibility to do something with this pile weighs on me.  But what?

My own photo archive awaits a similar fate.  I fancied myself a photojournalist in college, shooting, developing and printing 35 mm black and white in my home darkroom.  I moved to slides in the 70s and then color prints from the 80s until Y2K.  Being a storyteller, I organized most of my prints in albums, often adding captions and including memorabilia from places and events. There are more than 20 albums and I enjoy looking through them on occasion. Somehow, I can’t see my son being particularly thrilled if/when I pass the box on to him.

From Paper to Pixels

Easier to store but not as much fun to me.  
Digital images from the past decade sit on a dozen CDs, two laptops, two phones, Flickr and Facebook. Funny, as easy as it is, I don't look at those files very often, and when I do, it's just not as much fun.  The good news is that there is not as much guilt in disposing of digital images.  Send them to the cloud.  Might as well just hit "delete" for all the good that will do.

I’ve transferred Mom’s pile from the plastic bag to a metal box for safekeeping.  A good project for my retirement years, I think.  Sort them, scan them and save them to a DVD or maybe even create a new story book and print it.  

I like to imagine a great-granddaughter looking at the images someday -- paper or digital -- and seeing herself in the faces of the past.

Guess I have some work to do.

Dear readers:   What are you doing with your decades of print photos?  What are you doing with your digital archive? Share your ideas.  


  1. Chris, this brought up so many memories and thoughts for me. I loved looking at family pictures as a child, loved taking pictures as a teen. Now I wonder when and why I stopped. Like you, I have boxes of pictures to organize, sort, and many to discard. Since Jim and I don't have children, I wonder who will care enough about them when we're gone, and it feels wrong to leave that job for someone else.
    It reminds me of a short story about a woman sorting and throwing away treasures from her attic. When her granddaughter asked how she could part with these things she seemed to care about she said something like, "I'm the one who has to, I'm the only one who understands their value."

  2. Carol: I love that quote about understanding the value. Last night, my son and his love were over for dinner and I brought out the box. She was enchanted looking at the photos (especially of him as a little boy). Maybe the fate of my photos is not as dire as I thought. I found a kindred spirit who honors the past.

  3. oh, I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed exploring my mother-in-laws picture box as a newlywed. so much fun to fill in some of Jim's history, and see who he was as a kid.