Surplus to Requirements

Now that my parents and my husband’s have passed on, our house has turned into a photo archive with me as KOI–keeper of images.  Last year I gave a nice dinner when my siblings were here by way of bribery.  Then I took out all of Mom’s albums and offered them to anyone who would take them.  No one did.  As for my husband’s family, I can’t identify half the people in the Simonson albums and neither can Mick.  I should add that he is a talented photographer who recorded all of our travels, so the archives of those images–in assorted obsolete formats–add to the clutter.  Sure and would ye ever like six hundred color slides of Ireland, each of them beautifully composed and in sharp focus?  And then there are the big group photographs–reunions, anniversaries, funerals, weddings, class pictures, workforce bean feasts, and Christmas parties.

What should be done with photo collections?  I can see that translating the prints and slides to digital format would be a good start.  But there you are–left with a disc or memory stick with six hundred images.  If the family for whom the photos were taken rejects them, what then?  The historian in me resists destroying them.  Can a writer make use of the photoheap?

Photographs of scenery come in two kinds–aritstry and historical records.  When we traveled I kept having to ask Mick to tear himself away from the photo of a telephone booth he was composing to take a quick snap of the Eifel Tower.  The telephone booth picture would take a blue ribbon at the county fair whereas the Tower would be dismissed as a cliche.  I liked the phone booth, honest.  But I also wanted a record of where we were.

When writers plan to set books in real places, “reminder” photos of the place can be useful.  My first published novel was set in England, in Hampshire.  I had done a huge amount of research for it, but I could not even start the writing until I knew the color of dirt in that part of Hampshire.  That required a sabbatical leave and a trip to the UK.  Mick took lots of photos.  The dirt is pale gray chalk.  Good thing I checked.

A collection of place photos can be invaluable.  Being able to visualize the predominant tree in a forest, for instance, or the birds that show up there in midwinter, can bring the description of a place to life.  The kind of cars on a city street and their condition convey a lot about the economy at a given place and time.  Field crops, wild flowers, road signs–all nice details for a convincing setting.

It’s hard to see how a writer of fiction (as opposed to history or memoirs) could use the family albums my mother put together except as reminders of how fashions change or family resemblances recur.  Some years ago Mick actually bought an album of photos from the 1890s.  None of the people are identified, but a novel set in that era might profit from a look at the outfits they were wearing back then.  The haircuts were wonderful.

I could use those sepia-tinted photographs to create a virtual family and tell their tale…  Maybe I should just make a trip to the dump.


3 Responses

  1. I’ve had the same question for a while now, Sheila (had no idea it wasn’t unique!) I have 3 step-children for whom I’ve prepared photos of their father’s side — didn’t ask; just made albums, now disks and other fun collections (calendars, e.g.) over the years and wrapped them as presents. As for my side, I’m the last of my line and who would want that collection? Still, I have a hard time dumping. I have tried to cull and send photos (again, framed or on a mug (not) ) for other people in the photo).

  2. We are the keepers of the photographs from both my and my husband’s families. Couldn’t possibly dump them. What my daughter did for my mother’s side of the family was take the oldest photo we had (of my great grandparents) and then a photo of each person in the family to the present (the most recent descendant is 13 months old) and put them on a video on Facebook with a soundtrack with various versions of the song “Every Thing I Own” (I’d give every thing I own, just to have you back again….). It’s 10 minutes long. Brings a tear to my eye every time I watch it.

  3. One of our sons has turned my dad’s 16mm movies into a nice DVD, which I love having. Can watch family history of almost 80 years on the TV now, if I like, instead of having to mess with projector and all that, which he took, bless him.

    When my mother’s mind was failing, I made her an album of pictures with simple labels, to remind her of her siblings and husband and children and grandchildren. They’re now with my sister, who also has Alzheimer’s.

    Would your local historical museum be interested in any of the old ones? Or schools? I’d offer them before I’d make that trip to the dump.

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