Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Look at Me

One of my favorite websites was just updated after sitting dormant for several months. Look At Me: A Collection of Found Photos includes over 600 snapshots of ordinary people. Dating from the early 20th century to the 1970s, they typically chronicle vacations, birthdays, anniversaries, and myriad other occasions. Although some have identifying marks like a date, place, or person's name, most reveal nothing specific. We're left to make up the story based solely on the picture itself. Many of the images are quite poignant and one is left wondering, why weren't these photographs saved? Why weren't they passed along to other family members? Were they discarded? Sold as part of an odd lot at an estate sale? Collectively they invite reflection, in part because they mirror the images in our own photo albums, reflecting those mundane (and sublime) events that span the decades. And we have to wonder, will our family photographs end up in a garage sale or flea market?

With digital photography and the seemingly tenuous nature of so many images, all bets are off since the crash of a hard drive or destruction of a CD can erase an entire photo archive. Still, many of us elect to print our digital photos and fill albums for posterity, with the idealistic expectation that our heirs will treat them with the measure of respect that we accord the fabric of our familial histories. Will our treasured images someday be consigned to a "found photos" website?


Isabel said...

I always think about that Brian- how we rely so much on technology and then one day....Puff...all information is lost, all the photos gone. That is why I do those albums like the one from the Dickinson trip. At least, while I'm around I know all photos are safe...but who knows what my kids will do with them. I can only hope they build on it and pass it along to their kids. But there's no guaranties in life are there?
On my recent trip to the Cooperstown, NY, I did some antique shopping and found an old suitcase filled with interesting black and white photos, some very badly preserved, and I couldn’t help it but wonder what happened to that family. Any relatives left? All gone? What was their story?
One thing I know for sure, today or one hundred years from now, your picture with a full set of blonde hair will always bring a smile to someone's face ;-)

Kitty said...

I love going into those stores and finding boxes of old b/w snap shots. You know the ones I mean? They are amazing.

There's nothing like old (film) photos. There is a quality about them that digital doesn't have, when on the screen.

The ones on our screen seem disposable. It's not as if I'm sitting there thinking about the delete key, or a black out. Perhaps it's just the flatness and immateriality.

The film photo is a thing. It's been touched by people long gone, strangers. It has creases and tears.

Anyhow, great food for thought. Great post!

jblack designs said...

I think about this at estate sales, where I greedily snap up old photos. The saddest are the sales held by the relatives. I want to put the photos in their hands and say, "Don't let these go, you ninnies."

My guess is that they don't know who the people are in the photos, either.

Time to label my photo albums, perhaps...