by wjw on October 2, 2008

Since my mother passed away I’ve been performing the sad but necessary task of going through her belongings. That includes several albums of photographs.
Here’s a picture of my mother from 1921, when she was five years old. She’s outside the one-room schoolhouse in Makinen where she received her first eight years of education.
I hadn’t ever seen this picture before. I imagine it was taken by the teacher, because in my mother’s cult, photographs would have been considered sinful, as leading to vanity. Very possibly she would have had to hide this picture from her parents.
I don’t know why she’s holding the stick, but she seems very proud of it.
One thing I’ve discovered is that in recent years my mother went through her photo albums, removed most of the pictures, and threw them away. This was no small amount of work— these were old-fashioned photo albums, with the little corner holders glued to the page, and each photo would have had to have been carefully and deliberately removed.
Why do you suppose she did that? I doubt very much that there as a secret life she desperately needed to conceal. Or was it just that she could no longer remember the people in the pictures? Certainly I have pictures of people I can no longer recall.
My father, I recall, did something similar. He had a box with hundreds of pictures from the Second World War. At some point during his retirement, he put a number of them in an album, and tossed out the rest. What was he thinking?
Of course I’ve got thousands of photos myself, many of them in the form of slides. I have no intention of throwing them away, but I doubt they’d mean anything to anyone once I’m gone. I imagine that my executor, frustrated with days and days of going through my junk, would toss them without a thought. I suppose I could put them in some kind of digital archive, but the labor involved in scanning them all would be intense, and I doubt I’ll ever get around to it.
A photo detached from its context becomes an exercise in composition, and most photos fail on that score. They’re like leaves fallen from a tree, all of them more or less alike, carried away on the winds of time.
Morbid thoughts, late at night.
Ralf the Dog October 2, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Most people when looking at a picture of themselves think, “Yuck!” I know that only three pictures of me exist.

Don’t worry about your pictures. As the first science fiction author to win the Nobel Prize for literature, people will be making fun of your vacation shots 10,000 years from now.

Dave Bishop October 2, 2008 at 3:11 pm

A couple of years ago I went through the same bittersweet task of sorting out the family photos after the deaths of both of my parents. My mother had stashed them all in a suitcase. I did manage to scan them all in, put them on CD and to give copies to my brothers(it took months!).
My paternal grandmother’s snaps were the most frustrating. Apart from the fact that I knew that she too had thrown a lot away her annotations left a lot to be desired. On group photos she had painstakingly indicated “Mum” (herself), “Dad” (my grandfather) and “Ron” (my father)but had not identified anyone else. I think that you can imagine my reaction – given that I could easily identify “Mum” etc. myself!
Someone should publish a protocol for dealing with family photographs.

halojones-fan October 2, 2008 at 8:33 pm

One thing I was thinking, the other day, is that there are no on-film photographs of my niece in existence. Born in 2006, she will never have any picture taken of her that isn’t recorded by a CCD and stored electronically.

PS re-re-re-re…(etc)…-reading “Metropolitan”. Still as good as I remember.

Melinda Snodgrass October 2, 2008 at 9:12 pm

A photo detached from its context becomes an exercise in composition, and most photos fail on that score. They’re like leaves fallen from a tree, all of them more or less alike, carried away on the winds of time.

And this is why you are one of the finest writers working today.

*sigh* can I be you when I grow up?

But on the topic. I know what you mean, I’ve been looking through photos, and the memories are so bitter sweet. I’ve also realized that I don’t want pictures of places any longer. I want pictures of people. Many of the albums are filled with photos of castles, or beautiful scenery, but only when I have a person in those pictures can I truly recall that moment in time.

Melinda Snodgrass October 2, 2008 at 9:13 pm

For some reason I was having trouble getting my post to go through. I may have posted my earlier comment several times. If so, I apologize.

Ralf the Dog October 3, 2008 at 3:31 am

My Grandmother was a very good artist before she went blind. After she went blind she was a bit more abstract.

She spent her last few years with a pen and paper in her hand making greeting cards. Some of them you could recognize the subject. It was quite hard deciding what to keep.

S.M. Stirling October 4, 2008 at 5:34 am

My dad turned 93 this year.

He’s been going through all our old family albums, writing everything he can remember about the pictures beside them; names, dates, who was what to who, and so forth.

He said he’s doing it for the great-grandchildren, of which there were two more this year!

It’s fascinating to watch, too.

Frex, I’ve now got access to the names and short bios of all the 13 siblings of my paternal grandmother, who was born on a farm in England and was shipwrecked in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after her ship hit an iceberg in 1911, and met my father’s father.

Her family’s still there in Wiltshire, and still farming. According to our research, they’ve been there since well before 1066 AD, all farmers in the same 3 parishes; they’re named Uphill, like Frodo’s pseudonym in Bree.

You can’t -get- more English than that!

Of course, since they tended to immense broods of kids, and only the eldest two could stay in each generation, most of the Uphills actually live all over the Anglosphere.

We gets around, we-uns do… 8-).

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