Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Photos

          Sometimes old photographs seem so mundane that they are hardly worth the time it takes to identify them. But rather than scrawling a hasty annotation -  “Kate, Xmas ‘67, NJ” - on the back, I like to spend some time discussing the entire photo.
How do you do that?
Start with the basics: Who is in the photo? When was it taken? Where was it taken? Was there an event or incident associated with this photo?
In this case, the photo is of me, it was taken on Christmas Day, 25 December 1967 in our second-story apartment in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Sometimes you can cross-reference other photos with the one you are writing about. In this case, I have inset a photo of me taken on Christmas Day in 1963. Why? Because the rocking chair in the background of the 1967 photo was a Christmas gift in 1963. See baby me sitting in it?
Of course this works best for digital cross referencing rather than keeping some big old master list of all photographs. But wouldn’t THAT be a treasure to find!
Other things this photo shows that I remember well: the stereo in the corner of the apartment was a fixture. It actually belonged to my younger sister Barb, a gift from our paternal grandma. Why? Not sure on that one, guess I’ll need to ask.
The lamp is one of a pair that sat in our home until the late 1970s. It is on a doily that my maternal grandmother made. Next to that is a green china lady that my mother painted back before she and my father met. It was one of several elegant china ladies that decorated our tabletops, mantels, and shelves. They all sit upon an end table that my father made.
I remember that area rug coming apart at the seams and my mother sitting on the floor hand sewing the strips back together with heavy duty black thread.
The enormous stuffed dog, imaginatively named “Pinkie” I believe, was a gift from my maternal grandparents. Barb’s dog was yellow, but not named “Old Yeller.”
No, not every photo you own needs the same treatment, but it’s not a bad idea to try when a photo has a variety of interesting things in the background, relates to another photo in your collection, or simply evokes a time, place, or event that is strongly in your memory. By taking the time to take this photo apart bit by bit I have made it significantly more interesting to future generations that if I left it as “Kate, Xmas ’67, NJ.”
And you can make this into a fun family event by grabbing a handful of your old photos and taking them with you to family events this season. Ask everyone to talk about the photos and what they remember, include the kids and teenagers in the discussion, and record it all for posterity, whether by writing down what folks have to say, or set up your video camera and capture the fun on film, so to speak. Then sometime after the holidays are over and the winter blahs are setting in, send everyone a copy of the photos and their stories from your holiday get-together. Who knows, you might start a new tradition!

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