Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Let the Good Times Roll … and Bring a Camera

Sharon Wildwind

Our family’s unofficial photographer died recently. Since his death, I’ve become the family photo repository because I love photos and I’m the only one still alive who has a hope of figuring out if the young woman in a white dress and floppy hat—penciled lightly on the back of the print is “Summer 1902”—is my Great-Aunt Myrtle, Great-Aunt Marie, Tauntee, or my grandmother. I may be the only one left who actually met all four sisters.

Family members have been very generous, sending me CDs and prints they’ve had hanging around a long time and were never sure what to do with. I’m saving the photos and CDs for later this year because a much bigger project comes first.

A relative sent me two thumb drives, in total 65 gigabytes of photographs, from the unofficial family photographer's computer. The only problem was that, while I had a working, every-day ability to deal with my photo program, I’d never tried to use it for a project of this magnitude. Just before Christmas last year downloaded all those photo to put them in order and make DVDs for the family.

Life lesson: it takes a long time to transfer 65 gigabytes from thumb drives to my computer’s hard drive. The best course would have been to busy myself elsewhere while the transfer happened, but I didn’t do that. Since nothing seemed to be happening, I pressed the “copy” button a couple of extra times to see if it was working. Fortunately I figured out how to stop the multiple downloads, but not before I ended up with approximately 25,000 photographs to cull. Thank goodness I’d had the good sense (and the technical ability) to download them into one album.

Yesterday was a Monday holiday, Family Day. What better time to spent a lot of time with my family, even if they are in digital format? I discovered a lot of things about a man I hadn’t gotten to know as well as I would have liked.

Probably the most important thing I discovered were five photographs of a grave marker. Almost everyone in the previous generation was buried in the same cemetery, but one person died and was buried some distance away. Family lore said there were never photos of his grave, but there are. I don't know why he kept quiet about having them, but he did.

We have the same eye for light, shadow, and form, and we both love to photograph odd places like parking garages.

He thought dogs more photogenic than cats,
 but his absolute favorite creatures were bright tropical birds.
He loved tacky places.
He went to Las Vegas, the Kentucky Derby,
 the Grand Ole Opry, State Fairs, and Mardi Gras.

He loved parties, especially theme parties around holidays.
There were dozens of photos of him and his friends at New Years bashes, pink-and-red Valentine’s Day extravaganzas, 4th of July fire works, Labor Day pool parties, Halloween parties with cupcakes shaped like eyeballs, and big Thanksgiving meals.

Easter and Christmas were for family. I suspect, particularly at Christmas, he may have been a pain. He took delight in photographing every single gift opening. Our combined families rack up a huge pile of gifts.

As time went on, life became difficult, and the photos changed. There were fewer parties and less photos at Easter and Christmas. He did a retrospective tour, courtesy of Google Earth, revisiting all the the houses he'd lived in, and, with the street view feature, he was able to photograph all but one of those houses. He spent a lot of time playing with photo manipulation. One of the last photographs he created was a welcome-home card for an anticipated new arrival. Perhaps he guessed that he wouldn't be around to welcome her himself.
Oh, that photograph of the woman in the summer dress? I’m going for Great-Aunt Marie who married a man in the oil business and moved to east Texas.
Quote for the week:
Laissez les bons temps rouler: Cajun French for let the good times roll.
(And be sure to bring a camera.)


Harvee@Book Dilettante said...

Your digital photos and what you learned from them reminds me of the book I'm now reading, Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore, in which the narrator finds things out about the books and elderly borrowers by digitalizing everything in the bookstore.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wonderful photos, Sharon, and what a terrific project. I've been overhauling all my paper files and ended up with a giant file box of photos I never put into albums. I wonder if I'd have the stamina to scan and digitize them. I'm already having trouble remembering if that 19th century couple, the photograph on crumbling board and stamped with a town in Hungary, is my grandmother's parents or my grandfather's.

Anonymous said...

Taking on any family historical responsibility is one of the scariest, and often the most fun things, someone can do. There's always going to be hidden treasures.

Liz, have you thought about hiring someone to scan for you. Once the images are in the computer it becomes so much easier to add the information, tweek the photos, etc.

Diane said...

Lord, good thing you are now retired from your day job. The next question is will you have time to sleep?

I have several albums of photos that were my parents', and lots of loose ones, too. Some of the photos in my parents' albums are people I don't even know - not necessarily family. The best album - my Mom's and Grandmother's - was lost in a military move. Sadly, those were the only photos of my Grandmother's side of the family from the early 1900s.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks for sharing. And what a lovely photo legacy he has left behind.

Anonymous said...

Actually, Diane, it's been easier to sleep now that I'm working on getting this done.

Anonymous said...

Love hearing these stories! Love the photographs of your family photographer.

It is an odd feeling to me to be the last one who can possibly figure out certain photos lest the knowledge be lost & it happened to me suddenly & surprisingly young.

I've been that family photographer too, should have taken even more pictures actually and I did it constantly. Got my maternal grandmother's Easter table (and her pictured) with her fabulous spread only once. Once got an apology for having been thought to be taking too many pictures after my dad had a heart attack and I had just taken lots & lots of pix of him, maybe more than ever before. (He survived that luckily.)

Since some photo albums are not archival a lot of us are probably lucky not all of our pictures are in albums.

Re Diane's & other lost albums -- sometimes on ebay lost albums appear, also there is a section on Genforum for found or lost pictures. Would you know it if you saw it again? There are a couple of web sites too that list unknown albums and photos. Also, some other (even distant and not known to you) relatives might have copies of those early 1900s pictures that you lost. One line of my family had lots of reprints of early 1900s pictures so maybe someday you will happen upon them again.


Anonymous said...

Brenda, thanks for sharing your experience. I agree that it's a good thing not all photos are in albums. I've seen some that have simply fallen apart because of time and acid paper. It's amazing what sometimes surfaces.