Saving the Family Photos

Like many people, I’ve been watching the media coverage of the ongoing clean up and recovery efforts in Moore, Okla. and the other communities which were devastated by the tornado that ripped through the middle of country one month ago.  As reporters spoke with those digging through the rubble that was once their homes, I was struck by a common theme.  Although they were searching for anything that could be salvaged, the one item they all said they hoped to find was family photographs.

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and Mississippi, residents there too lost  family photos in the flooding along with everything else.  Unfortunately, among those who lost everything were many professional photographers who otherwise would have archived images of weddings, family groups, baby portraits, class reunions and life’s  events. Without those archival files, none of the photos could be replaced.

Even famiy vacation snapshots are priceless when a natural disaster hits. Our photo memories of those fun times often can't be replaced if destroyed.
Even famiy vacation snapshots are priceless when a natural disaster hits. Our photo memories of those fun times often can’t be replaced if destroyed.

A family’s photographs, whether snapshots, an old family album of one’s ancestors, wedding pictures or the family portrait that a professional photographer created, are one of the few things that often can not be replaced when a disaster hits.  You can’t always predict exactly when or where a natural disaster will strike, but here are some suggestions and precautions to lessen the chances of losing your precious photographic memories.

1) Make two CDs of your images whenever you download them from your camera. This is a common practice among professional photographers, who also go one step further and use archival CDs on which to store their recorded images.  Ideally, the two CDs should be stored in two separate locations.

2) Likewise, for film images. Store your negative files and prints in separate locations.

In 1994, a major earthquake rocked Los Angeles.  My sons, shown here with the next day's newspaper headline, helped me load our family albums into the car.
In 1994, a major earthquake rocked Los Angeles. My sons, shown here with the next day’s newspaper headline, helped me load our family albums into the car.

3) Keep personal family photo albums in one place in the home so that you can quickly grab them should you need to evacuate.  When still living in Los Angeles, I kept my personal albums together in one closet.  When the 1994 Northridge earthquake shook our house and the resulting pipeline fire nearby appeared to threaten our neighborhood, I grabbed the albums between aftershocks and loaded them into the back of our car.  In that same closet were the negatives of  the portraits of my family that hung throughout the house. I pulled those storage boxes off the shelf as well and packed them into the car.  Fortunately, in our case, evacuation wasn’t necessary but I was ready to go with the family memories if it had been.

4) If you live in where tornadoes occur, move your family albums to basement temporarily during tornado season.  You won’t want to leave them there permanently unless the basement is climate controlled because excessive humidity or heat can damage your photos, negatives or slides.

Scan your heirloom family portraits because they are impossible to replace once gone.
Scan your heirloom family portraits because they are impossible to replace once gone.

5) Store your digital images on a secure on-line storage site. There are costs associated with this storage space but it may be an option for some of your most important images.

6)  Provide family members who live elsewhere with copies of your most beloved photos.  While you may not want to duplicate every photo you have there are undoubtedly some that hold more meaning for you than others that you might want to share with your family.

7) Scan your oldest, heirloom photos, if you are lucky enough to have them, so that you will have a duplicate in case you lose the original. 

Professional wedding pictures can often be replaced because professional photographers archive the original negatives or digital files.  And yes, that's me in the center.
Professional wedding pictures can often be replaced because professional photographers archive the original negatives or digital files. And yes, that’s me in the center.

8) Established professional photographers retain both the original and finished images of their work so that you should lose your wedding or family portraits in a natural disaster you can have them replaced, unless of course their own studio is also destroyed.

9) Lastly but not least, make prints of those digital images that hold the greatest meaning for you.  With the advent of digital imagery, many people no longer make ‘hard copies’ in the form of prints, preferring instead to store the images on their computers, external hard drives, phones or CDs.  But for the images you love the most, I highly recommend making prints of them. I do this myself for all my personal family photos because should something ever happen to my computer or the CDs on which they are stored, I will still have my pictures.

As I tell my portrait clients who ask for digital images only, I have stored away files of articles written when I worked as a journalist for TIME and other publications. They were recorded on 5-inch floppy disks, on a program that no longer exists, on an operating system that no longer exists, on a computer that no longer exists. But I have ‘hard’ printed copies of everything I wrote so I still have access to that material. You would be well-advised to do the same with your personal family photographs.

I hope these suggestions will help preserve the visual memories of your childhood and family should a disaster ever befall you. Most of all, I hope should you ever be caught in a natural disaster that you and your family will  be safe. Those lives are most precious than any possession or photograph and certainly can never be replaced.

Celebrating Dad

I was standing before a rack of greeting cards the other day, reading through the selection of Father’s Day cards.  Most of the sentiments were pretty sappy and thoroughly generic.  I had already made a personalized card for my own Dad using one of my images but was curious what the messages of the mass manufactured retail cards said.

The thing is, Father’s aren’t generic, nor are they mass manufactured.  Everyone’s Dad is different. Even siblings with a common father often have different images of their Dad. Celebrating those unique qualities is what Father’s Day is all about.

Bow ties became my Dad's trademark. He began wearing them while still a photographer's apprentice to prevent his ties from being ruined by the darkroom chemicals.
Bow ties became my Dad’s trademark. He began wearing them while still a photographer’s apprentice to prevent his ties from being ruined by the darkroom chemicals.

Reading through the greeting cards made me stop and think about my own Dad. He’s an amazing guy and is someone I greatly admire and love. I’m fortunate to be able to spend this Father’s Day with my 93-year-old father.

All the things my Dad is to me and to my two brothers, can’t be summed up in a simple card written by a copywriter who’s never met him. He has been, first and foremost, a loving, caring, generous parent to three children who I’m sure challenged both his patience and love many times over the years.

My father was married for 66 years to my mother until she died in November, 2012.  He fell in love with her shortly after returning from World War II and married her two weeks after they met.
My father was married for 66 years to my mother until she died in November, 2012. He fell in love with her shortly after returning from World War II and married her two weeks after they met.

He was a devoted husband of 66 years to my mother until she died last November.  He is a decorated World War II veteran who came home and raced greyhounds with his brother-in-law and sister until he decided to become a professional photographer.

My Dad met up with his older brother, Dale, for a day's visit during World War II in Italy.
My Dad met up with his older brother, Dale, for a day’s visit during World War II in Italy.

He was a small business owner for many years until retiring at age 70.  He was, and continues to be an active member in his church.  For many years, he was a member of the local Lions Club and Chamber of Commerce.  He now serves on the board of the local historic museum.

Gardening has always been one of my Dad's joys.  He's shown here with his rose bushes.
Gardening has always been one of my Dad’s joys. He’s shown here with his rose bushes.

He’s a gardener who loves spending time tending to he vegetables he plants. He’s a handyman who can mend fences, rewire a lamp, and stop a leaky pipe.  He’s a carpenter who built the first home I ever lived in (still standing and in good shape today) and who constantly has little projects in progress at home now. (I have the little end table he made in his high school woodworking class.)

He’s also a good cook who enjoys baking pies, canning the vegetables from his garden or serving up a dinner of chicken and homemade dumplings.

He’s an educator who taught photography workshops for professional photographers’ associations and now visits elementary and high school classrooms to tell the students about growing up on the farm during the Depression or fighting in World War II.

He’s an artist who created thousands of memorable portraits of families, brides, babies, high school seniors, and business people to bring beauty into their lives through his creative photography.

My Dad was a professional portrait photographer for nearly 50 years and owned his own studio.
My Dad was a professional portrait photographer for nearly 50 years and owned his own studio.

He’s lover of poetry and can to this day recite his favorite poems learned in school or read in the little book he carried with him as a soldier.  He’s an avid reader, particularly of history and always has a stack of books on the table beside his chair.  He’s also a fan of Westerns, particularly the vintage television shows “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza”.  But he also likes a good comedy; his current being re-runs of Ray Romano’s series, ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.”

He worked long days  and often nights weekends as a professional photographer to make certain we had all the things we needed; such as shoes, vaccinations, braces, a college education, piano lessons, swim lessons.  Then there were the things we didn’t really need but wanted that he also gave us–ice cream cones, birthday parties, a camera, that toy rifle for Christmas, my first Beatles album.

As a grandfather to my sons, my Dad was always ready to lend a helping hand or teach them how to do something whenever he was around.
As a grandfather to my sons, my Dad was always ready to lend a helping hand or teach them how to do something whenever he was around.

He imparted to us those things on which you can’t put a price–a strong work ethic, a love of family, a sense of fairness and respect for others, the value of a good education and the encouragement to think for ourselves, even when we differed in opinions.

But most of all, he’s my Dad.  Now how can you put that into a few brief words of a store-bought greeting card?