Sunday, January 8, 2012

Resolution - Week Two - More Photo Fun!

          I suspect that you have a large stack of photos on your hands this morning.  Hope you had fun collecting them, looking at them, remembering, laughing, sharing them with your family.  That’s the whole purpose of photos you know; to remind us of past people, events, and places so that we can relive those moments, or remember those events.
          If you are anything like me, you discovered you had a LOT more photos than you realized.  We had about six or seven albums full of photos, three photo boxes chock full of photos, and another couple shoeboxes filled to capacity.
          Now it’s time to start the sorting process.  This week it’s relatively simple:  sort them into two stacks/boxes/rooms – whatever is the appropriate size for your collection.  One stack is for those that are labeled or that you can label.  The other is – you guessed it! – for those you are unable to label.
          When I say “label” I am referring to documenting the photo:  who is in it, when it was taken, where it was taken, and why it was taken. 
          Yesterday a friend brought me a small stack of photographs that she discovered.  They are lovely, clear, well-executed images of the subjects.  They should be treasured family keepsakes.  But sadly they are not labeled (with one exception). 
I can guess at the dates of them, based on the clothing, and two are imprinted with a local photography studio, so it is possible they are still in business and have records of who two of the subjects are.  One photo does have a cryptic label:  Lotus; Dec.; 1926.  Is the child’s name really “Lotus”?  If so, what is her last name?  December 1926 seems a reasonable date for the image, but that doesn’t really help us to identify the photo.  I suspect that all six photographs will continue to be mysteries.
And that is the reason it is important to label photographs.  Future generations will look at them, admire them, but having no clue as to who they are or how they are related to them may well relegate your treasured memories to the trash can or the yard sale.
          The “who” sometimes is more difficult than you originally thought it would be.  You ought to write out the entire name of each person, not their relation to you.  Looking at a family photo on my wall, I want to say “that’s Dad, Mom, and the four of us girls”.  And it is.  But will my grandchildren know who those people are?  And in a generation or two, who is the “me” of the label?
          So I write John Robert James, Betty Jane Tasker James, and each of the four of us girls, noting who is in the front row, and who is in the back row, and moving left to right.  Now anyone at any time will be able to identify the folks in the picture.
          Now on to the “when”.  Sometimes you know immediately when a photo was taken – it was on your birthday on 1967; Christmas of 1983; your parent’s wedding day in 1959. 
Then there will be those photos that you know approximately when each was taken, but not a specific date.  Perhaps it was that vacation in 1996.  Or during the fall football season of your son’s junior year of high school.  Or between the time that your dad got out of the Air Force and before your parents got married.  If that is as close as you can get it, that’s fine.  Maybe later you will be able to zero in on a specific date, but for now “fall 2003” is better than nothing.
A word about photos with the date on them.  Whether from a film or a digital camera, a date stamp can be useful, but only if it was accurate to start with.  How many times have we seen digital photos with the “01/01/01” or similar date stamp?  And perhaps that film wasn’t taken in to be developed until months or even years later.  (I found some 5 or 6 year old film in a drawer several years ago – all of those photos are date stamped for 2005, but some were taken back in the 1990s!)  So be cautious about accepting the date stamp on the photo.  It might be a good clue, or it might lead you astray!
To be honest, the “where” aspect of the photographic label is one that I only recently began to value.  I was usually pretty good about names and dates, but the location didn’t seem to matter.  Then I started looking at old photos of my mom and dad in their childhood.  Sometimes I recognized places and realized that they are long gone.  No one younger than my generation would recognize the back yard of my grandparents’ house, and they couldn’t stumble onto that bit of information because the house has been torn down and there is no backyard any more.  So now I always try to include a city and state at the very least.  And if I know a street address, I include that, too.[1]
Now for the “why” of the photo.  Again, this is often easy – it is a birthday, graduation, wrestling match, dance recital, concert, parade, etc.  But sometimes, especially if you didn’t take the photograph, determining the “why” is more difficult.  If you suspect that a family member can help you determine the reason for the photo, put it in the “unlabeled” stack.  You’ll be getting to that later.
This process may take a while.  Days or weeks even.  It all depends on how many photos you have and how much you know about them.  If you aren’t sure, don’t guess.  Put that photo into the “unlabeled” stack and move on.  Again, we’ll address all of those photos another week.
One more thing to consider before you start writing all over your photos.  Do NOT use a ball-point pen – this leaves an indentation in the photo.  Instead, I would suggest that you either use a #2 pencil (but don’t press hard or you’ll leave an indentation!) or an acid-free pen.  The one I like best is the Pigma Micron (, which I buy at my local fabric or craft store, but you can also get them online at (  Whatever you use to label your photos, make sure that the ink dries before you stack another on top of it or place in back in the box with the others!
Next week we’re going to move away from your photo collection.  I suspect that it might take you longer than a week to label all that you can!  Until then, enjoy your photographs.

[1] By-the-way, knowing the address can lead to a fun experience for you and your kids.  Set your child or teen up at the computer, and have them Google the address.  Then do a street view of your old house or wherever the photo was taken.  See what changes have been made (prepare yourself to be distraught when you find they cut down that big old oak tree!), point out places that still exist, and enjoy strolling down memory lane with your family.

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