Something a little different from me tonight, as this is something very close to my heart, and this article really touches on a point that I value. Bernard Salt talks about the different incarnations of his family album over the years, and compares it to the present day, where we seem to have developed an obsession with ‘capturing’ our lives, sharing them even, through insta and facebook. But nothing that preserves these memories and makes them tangible, and recorded in a real way for our children.
Of course, as a photographer, it’s easy to pass off my obsession with prints and albums as a desire to sell albums to my clients. I hear it all the time, and I see clients shuffle uncomfortably as I try to lead them towards prints and albums, rather than digital files for their purchase. At social gatherings with my friends I am asked repeatedly, ‘do you sell the files, why do you still sell albums, who would bother to buy one when you can easily just print your own images?’. All fair points I guess.
So, I want to share something personal. Like Bernard, I grew up with a mother snapping images in my face and compiling them dutifully into albums. Not fancy ones, not expensive ones. Just those plastic sleeves you slip a photo into. My sixth birthday party, my first day of school, my first fancy dress costume….all documented, all preserved. She valued this enough to also book photographers to photograph our family in the early 70’s, when we were still a family. Before mum and dad divorced, and those photos were placed into a drawer as if they no longer had meaning or significance.
In 2009, the day after her 60th birthday party, my mother died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. The grief and shock that wracked our family was unfathomable, as was the devastation that persisted for the next couple of years.
In 2011, my stepfather handed me a box of photos. I happened to have my nieces over for a sleepover and although I dreaded the pain of it, they and my son wanted to look at the photos. I put on a brave face, and agreed. Unexpectedly, the next two hours were the most uplifting of the past two years. Year after year of my life with my sister was revealed, painstakingly arranged into albums and preserved. The kids laughed at our clothes, at the hair styles, at my girl guide uniform. And then I discovered the ‘my wedding’ album. An inexpensive white vinyl album, tucked away at the bottom, arranged with care by a scared pregnant 19 year old girl. The photos were taken by a Dutch photographer in Fremantle at the time. Mostly black and white, they were breathtaking. There were my aunts and uncles, my older cousins, all celebrating what was once a happy union. Far from being meaningless, the photos were beautiful! We laughed so much to see our older family members in 1968, telegrams all embedded into it, messages of love, support, caring, and photos…..so many photos, that it gave me a sense of family and connectedness that I had missed for over 30 years. This was the reality of who we were, why we were there, where we came from. It was incredibly touching.
And even more touching was the knowledge, much too late, that Mum had in fact valued that also, enough to create these lasting keepsakes for us. Images I had thought lay dormant in a drawer were in fact painstakingly preserved and arranged for posterity. Her marriage may not have lasted, but her connections to it were forever, and her love of us all was so evident in every page she put together.
Not every family is perfect. Not every family has a perfect story, but every family DOES have a story. And ultimately, it needs to be told, and shared, and passed on so that the younger generations have a sense of where they belong.
THIS is why I do what I do. This is what I love about capturing the images I capture for families. The connections, the story. I’m happy to sell my digital files. But only because I accept that my clients want them. Not because I believe that a file buried on a hard drive somewhere can EVER compete with these beautiful images that tell the story of my life. Bernard agrees with me.