How to Deal with the Family Photo Collection
Jerry Nelson  
McLean, VA  


Most families make false moves (or none at all) with their photos.  Try reviewing the entire collection and  throwing out at least half  the images.  Keep a felt-tipped pen handy.  You can mark  the knock-out shots  for later attention as you pass by, but the first priority is getting rid of the repetition and junk.   Less is more.   The technical triumph of being able to dump every shot on a camera's memory card into a Web-based photo service is a cultural disaster.  We are not burying the next generation in only the national debt.   Slim down.  


When you're dead (Oh.  Sorry.  You're one of those planning to live forever?), the photos with nothing written on the back go into the Dumpster, and those that help others identify the people photographed are saved.  
But, alas!  Names are too obvious to the living to even write down, and so it comes to pass that much of our lives are doomed to die when we do -- because the names are missing.  

Photos have the power to pull up memories, even against the weight of dementia, so there you have your top job:  share the photos -- big, restored, clear --  with older family members and get their stories and the names.  

As in so many things, these tasks become impossible for aging parents to perform, and children are often  too reluctant to take over for parents in this task,  as in so many others.   So start talking about your parents photos while you still have them, or at least their crowd, to talk to.  

The ignominious Dumpster is always the home of the nameless print.  


Without the energy to do any better, parents will  think the best thing to do is "scan everything and give it to the kids."  The tragedy is complete when they actually do this, and the originals are  discarded.  This is a tragedy because the same pile of hundreds of images that was such a barrier to the parents is even more of a barrier to the children, who now have even almost no  tangible, physical basis for figuring out  how old an image is or who's in it.   If a photo is good but the scan is poor and needs to be re-done, it can be impossible to find the original corresponding to  image "1304.jpg" in folder "Batch5" even if the originals were kept.  

Scanning is useful as a tool for finding images that are important because they are historic, or because they are beautiful and moving.    After they are found, restore and share them.  

The goal with family photos, it seems to me, is creating beauty that is effortlessly accessible to anyone at a glance, a beautiful object  that evokes the telling and retelling of stories.  I have developed the tools and technology I use because I think the goal of photography is a great print, and we make prints to share our humanity with others.  

In sum, children should help parents since photos are all about sharing, and it will enrich more than the photos to get the names and hear the stories of the family.

This is grinding, tough work.   If you are doing it right, the technology will be the least of it.


In my self-serving opinion, as you run across  one knock-out shot in a hundred, I think you should send it to a craftsman right away and  make that print, reward yourselves with a real "stunner" as you slog onwards.  The job will seem worth the struggle if it turns into a treasure hunt.  Send copies of these treasures to other family members as you find them.  No one will ever object to such a gift, and you need to find out who cares and wants to help.

Scanning by itself solves nothing and creates problems.  What, then, can we expect from the digital revolution?  


New technology is interesting not because a CD makes pictures any easier for someone to look at than slides in a slide box.  The new technology is powerful because a digitized image on a Website can be accessed anywhere in the world at any time.  The digital revolution brings access.  This includes access for you yourself -- fly to Australia, visit anyone with a networked computer, and show them your slides on it.  

To see what's out there, do a search for "online photo album review", or for  "best family website hosting".  Whether you go for a simple album or a Website with more text and control of the presentation, the images must be digitized.  I can help you digitize and restore images.    But first they must be found!  After that, paper prints or Web display are easy.  


Rev 4/06 1/2010
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