Preserve and Protect Your Holiday Photos

One day this past week, I pulled out the drawer where I keep our family videos of Christmases past.  I shoved one into the VCR (fortunately we have a VCR drive on our DVD machine) and turned it on. The one I chose to watch was nearly 20 years ago. It was in remarkably good condition. My sons were small and full of glee over the holiday preparations.

Photos of my sons when they were small at Christmas are among my most precious photos.  Shown here with their Grandmother, I can only imagine the sticky hands they had after gtnawing on those candy canes.
Photos of my sons when they were small at Christmas are among my most precious photos. Shown here with their Grandmother, I can only imagine the sticky hands they had after gnawing on those candy canes.

My parents visited my family that year and I have video of them handing out the gifts they had packed into their suitcase to three excited little boys.  My mother-in-law, who was still living then, was there too at our caroling party cuddling my youngest in her arms. And my cousin’s son, who was like a big brother to my sons and who is no longer living, made an appearance to help my husband set up the toy train.  I was more captivated by our homemade video than any movie I’ve seen all year. I’ll bet many of you are taking photos and videos of your family and this year’s holiday festivities. Recording these visual memories takes many forms these days,–with cameras, phones, tablets or who knows what else.  I still chuckle whenever I see someone holding up a tablet to capture an image. But I must confess, the quality of some of these devices is pretty amazing. However, what happens to all those pictures and videos once they have been stored on the device’s memory card? Is  your memory  permanent or does it become lost somewhere in your personal cyberspace? Will anyone else years from now be able to retrieve it should they want to see how your family celebrated the holidays?

My family gathered at the long table in my aunt and uncle's basement to have our Christmas dinner together.
My family gathered at the long table in my aunt and uncle’s basement to have our Christmas dinner together.

The practice of taking ‘snapshots’ came into popularity during the early 1900s when Kodak introduced its first Brownie camera which sold for $1.  A roll of film was 15 cents. For the first time, according to Kodak history, “the hobby of photography was within the financial reach of virtually everyone.” As wages rose during the 1920s, snapshot photography became more and more part of American daily life.  Smaller cameras and better film allowed people to capture a life that was full of motion.   By the 1950s,  snapshots became even easier to take when Kodak’s first plastic Brownie camera came onto the market. These were even smaller versions of Kodak’s original box cameras and far easier to tote along to parties, on vacations or to keep handy around the house.

My first camera was a Brownie like this one.  The Brownie made holiday picture-taking easy.
My first camera was a Brownie like this one. The Brownie made holiday picture-taking easy.

The Brownie Bullet was a cube-shaped camera made of molded Bakelite plastic with a simple lens and shutter release whose dimensions were just a little larger than the 127 sized roll film loaded inside. This was my very first camera. Mine was the Brownie Holiday model. I still have it and all of the nearly square format black and white snapshots that I took with it. My earliest photos are now stored in what preceded today’s ‘memory card’–a photo album. I can pull it off the shelf, turn through the pages and re-live those days of my childhood through the photos affixed there to the page with little black paper corners.

One of my earliest photos, probably taken with my Brownie Starflash camera, was of my Dad carving the turkey at the holiday dinner.
One of my earliest photos, probably taken with my Brownie Starflash camera, was of my Dad carving the turkey at the holiday dinner.

Fast forward to today. Film has almost disappeared although some is still available. Cameras have taken new forms, some not even resembling a ‘traditional’ camera. Photo albums are rapidly being replaced by on-line versions where thousands of images can be simply dumped or neatly arranged and viewed on TVs, computer screens, phones or whatever. But in 20, 30, 40 years and beyond, will you, your progeny or historians be able to access these images so that you or they can get a glimpse of how we lived our lives and celebrated holidays together? It’s a question that I constantly ask myself and my studio clients. I suggest to all my friends and professional clients that they make prints of their personal pictures, especially the ones that they love the most. I also strongly urge everyone to download your images onto a back-up external hard drive and/or CD. Since starting to shoot digitally, I make two copies of both my personal and professional images on archival quality CDs. Of course, CDs no longer guarantee that you’ll have access to them in the future. Some Apple computer products, for example,  no longer come with CD drives.

This  shapshot of my parents with my aunts and uncles opening their Christmas was taken in the late 1940s and offers a priceless glimpse into my family's holiday celebration 'pre-me'.
This snapshot of my parents with my aunts and uncles opening their Christmas gifts was taken in the late 1940s and offers a priceless glimpse into my family’s holiday celebration ‘pre-me’.

At least with printed copies of your pictures you’ll have them later. I have never understood professional photographers, or amateur ones for that matter, who leave their images only in digital format. I have never sold my professional images only in that format, even though I’ve had plenty of requests to do so, because I think it’s a disservice to both my client and my work. It’s the same for your personal snapshots and your videos as well. In some ways, it’s even more important that you make prints of those images captured during the holidays and at other special times of the year because only you have them. They’re your personal memories recorded to recall visually the wonderful times you shared with family and friends.

My New Year’s wish is for you to preserve and protect your personal photos and videos. Please, make a resolution to print those images as well as download them. Put them in an album or shoe box or wherever it is you like to keep your most valuable documents so that years from now you too can look back and fondly remember these holidays.

Seasons Greetings

The first greeting card of the season arrived in the mail the other day–yes, the mail, the kind that still requires a  postage stamp and a short walk out to the mailbox in below-freezing temperatures to retrieve.  The sending and receiving of Christmas cards is a holiday ritual that I look forward to.  I still personally send and receive a goodly number of them–last year I mailed off nearly 100. I count myself fortunate that I know that many people to whom I would like to send greetings of the season.

In recent years, I’ve received more ‘e-cards’ but there is something wonderful about ripping open the paper envelope, sliding out the card and holding in your hand a paper card from someone you know even if you only hear from them by mail at this time of year.  The convenience of the Internet certainly has impacted the way we correspond with our friends and family.  It’s great to be able to sit down and chat via electronically on one of many of the modes of communication now available to us, just as I did this morning with my cousin in Los Angeles.  But for me, I still enjoy the old-fashioned Christmas card when it comes to wishing everyone a happy holiday.

One year, my Dad gathered the family in the studio for a Christmas card portrait.
One year, my Dad gathered the family in the studio for a Christmas card portrait. Don’t you love my hairstyle?

For the past two weeks, I’ve been busy in the studio designing, ordering and delivering holiday cards to my photography clients.  The cards feature the portraits I’ve taken of them either on the front cover or inside or both along with a personal message conveying their best wishes to their loved ones and friends.  It’s terrific fun to help them select just the right design for the photo they’ve chosen and pen a verse to say exactly what they want, if they haven’t already written it themselves.  And it’s even more rewarding to see how happy and pleased they are when I show them the finished product.  

My family has been creating Christmas cards for as long as I can remember.  Longer, in fact, as for my very first Christmas, my parents sent off a card with a photograph of me, cuddled in the arms of my beaming father with my beautiful mother next to him and the Christmas tree, trimmed in silver tinsel and shiny glass balls, behind us.

The year I was born, my parent' family and friends received this card at Christmas.
The year I was born, my parent’ family and friends received this card at Christmas.

In the photo, I look less than interested but I am so thrilled now to have this tangible Christmas memory, to be able to feel the thickness of the stiff-backed panel card and the embossed greeting and design on the front.  The names of my parents are also embossed onto the card but my name has been hand-printed in red, ball-point ink below it.  Maybe they didn’t anticipate including me in the picture when they ordered the card or maybe it was simply a printer’s mistake or limitation of the number of lines that could be included.  The photo itself is a ‘sepia-toned’ wallet that has been inserted and affixed in the pre-cut rounded-corner opening.  I have only one of these cards which found in a drawer my parents’ home during a visit there.  I cherish it as I would a priceless jewel, more in fact.

This card was printed on photographic paper by my dad in his studio. That's me and my brother, Richard, trying to guess what's in the packages.
This card was printed on photographic paper by my dad in his studio. That’s me and my brother, Richard, trying to guess what’s in the packages.

Throughout my childhood,  my brothers and I posed for the annual Christmas card photo.  Sometimes we included the family cat.  Sometimes we were wearing pajamas, other times our Sunday-best.  Sometimes we were placed at the piano or playing our instruments.  The year my youngest brother arrived, my aunt Marie made an oversized red flannel stocking into which my six-month-old brother was carefully stuffed while my other brother and I held it open. I know that there were years when I was less than excited about having to stand still while my dad, also a fine professional photographer, took the picture. But now,  I am so grateful that he and my mother insisted.

In the days when black and white was the only option, Dad had to print the Christmas card pictures himself on photographic paper, many of which doesn’t exist any more.  These photos would then be inserted into the card, just as I still do for myself and clients today.  In some cases, he printed the entire card on photographic paper.  I don’t know how he found the time to do them  as the holidays was always busy enough just trying to fulfill customers’ orders.

When my younger brother was born, we stuffed him into a stocking for the annual Christmas photo
When my younger brother was born, we stuffed him into a stocking for the annual Christmas photo

With the advent of Kodak’s ‘slimline’ greeting cards, the actual production of the card became a little easier. We still had to take time out for my dad to shoot the photo, but it was far less work on the back-end for him to create it.  The task of addressing and stamping all those cards, and I’m sure there were plenty because I have a large, extended family, fell to my mom.

I will always treasure this card of my sons with my parents. I photographed them together during one of my parents’ last visits to my home.

I have carried on the tradition in my own family. My three sons long ago learned that it was better just to go along with the yearly photo session than to protest.  One of my personal favorites is of them standing on our front walk, with the snow flurries flying around them.  Another that I’ll treasure for as long as I live is the one I took of my sons with my parents during one of their last visits to my home.

I like to believe now that they are young men that they actually appreciate my efforts.  I am sure they will once they have families of their own. Because over the years, it’s all those pictures that help us to share with others the way we lived and the people we loved.  During the holiday season, I display the photo cards my parents made.  It keeps my family close to me now that my mother has passed away and my father lives far away.  And they remind me of  holidays past. So while we live in an exciting era of instantaneous, electronic communication, I continue this old-fashioned practice of sending a personal, paper greeting card to my family and friends.  Perhaps, one day, my cards will become holiday heirlooms too.

This is one of my family favorites. I made this photo of my sons during a pre-Christmas snowstorm.
This is one of my family favorites. I made this photo of my sons during a pre-Christmas snowstorm.