Those who grew up before the digital age most likely have many old photos stored somewhere. Perhaps they are stuck in a closet somewhere, or boxed up in the garage. I have a shoe box, and from time to time I will go through them looking for something, but often end up glancing at some old photos. Some may be damaged, as time can be unforgiving. Too many are faded from too much sun, or ripped and torn from not being stored properly. The ravages of time are not kind to most photos and too many fade from existence, losing the story behind the photo.
I love going to museums, especially art museums. The skill and quality of the paintings are always inspiring and soothing for the soul. I’m not seeing just paint on a canvas, but worlds and creations from the minds of the authors. A painting provides a glimpse into the mind of the artist, a direct connection to another person from a different age and time. I love landscapes, but also appreciate portraits. In a sense, this is a “photo” of someone from the past. A life no more, but a story being told between the artist and the individual gazing into the painting. Maybe it’s a historical figure, but many times it may be of a regular person. I always wonder what they were like.
Photos are the same. I was back in college in the early 1990s, wrapping up my history degree and decided to do a little volunteer work at the state archives here in North Carolina. I was tasked with the job of photo copying stacks of photos, a crude preservation technique before scanners were prevalent. However, it provided many opportunities to look at an old photo. There was a story unfolding before my eyes, and I was intrigued. Who was this person? What were they doing? Were they friendly, or mean spirited? Did they have a family? What were their hopes and dreams? I wondered if they realized that long after their death, someone would look at their photo, and think about them.
Before the death of my mom, I wanted to grab some of our old photos and digitize them for prosperity. I wanted to restore the color and eliminate some of the folds and dust particles as I scanned them into the computer. Life happens, and my grand project fell by the wayside. I have resumed work recently and am utterly fascinated. There are photos of my mom and dad, newly married and starting a life together, soon to be blessed with three boys. It seems everyone aged too quickly. Life always moves forward, no matter how much you wish to relive memories or slow it down.
I’m currently scanning photos from 1968, living a past that I wasn’t around for. I see a family reunion taking place that August, and some from Christmas and New Year’s, and enjoy seeing my aunts and uncles when they were in their primes. Starting families, and seeing some of my older cousins when they were very young. I admit, I don’t always recognize everyone in the photo, but most are unmistakable. I see my Dad has hair, Uncle Edward too, but not for much longer. I see mom as a new mother, smiling and glowing. I see so many 1960 hair styles! Did all my uncles wear white t-shirts? I see some of those no longer with us, and wonder if they thought I would be looking upon their photo almost fifty years later. Seeing these old photos always makes you think back. I can hear the echoes of my grandma’s voice when we would visit. I close my eyes, and can hear my grandpa’s laugh, and remember the swivel chair that he would love to sit in.
The photos are better now, and the color is no longer quite as faded, and my skills at photo restoration are limited, but they are better and more alive. The story of the family unfolds, and I listen to the voices of those who passed on talking again. I wasn’t a thought in the wind in 1968, but I am there as I look at some photo of warm August day in Florida, or at the Christmas celebration. One day, I’ll be finished scanning in all the photos, but until then, I enjoy seeing and hearing from everyone speaking to me from the photos.
Every family has boxes and collections of photos. Far too often they get stashed away and forgotten about. Sometimes they are destroyed by fire or flood, or degrade as time moves on. Take some time to glance at them, and restore them if necessary. Relive the story of your family, and take the time to listen to those long since gone.
It’s important to preserve all your old photos and pictures. These are moments captured in time, forever frozen. Keep them close and take good care of them. One day, I’ll be finished digitizing them, and as I place each one into my scanner, I enjoy seeing and hearing from everyone speaking to me from the photos. It’s good to once again talk and hear from my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins no longer with us. It feels good to hear their voices again. The story continues to be told, even after these many years.