Everything’s Coming Up Roses

I switched on the television this morning and there it was, the 129th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade, already well underway.  This parade with its profusion of elaborately expensive flower-decked floats that glide down Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, Ca. while millions of spectators watch from both curbside and in the comfort of their homes via electronic broadcast, has become as much a New Year’s tradition in many American households as has pop[ing a bottle of champagne the night before.

A gigantic orca made entirely of flower seeds leaps by spectators during the 100th Rose Parade. A palm tree, so exotic to me in my youth, frames the scene from our grandstand seats.

Watching the Rose Parade on television was a New Year’s Day tradition in my parents’ home when I was growing up in middle of the country.  Seeing tall palm trees on TV on January first was an exotic sight compared to the gray, bare-branched oaks, elms and maples shivering in the cold outside my hometown window.  Pasadena’s bright blue and sunny skies (it’s only rained 10 times on the parade and only twice in my lifetime), were a Chamber of Commerce advertising postcard that teased those of us stuck in frigid temperatures with winter’s white snow and ice often coating the ground.

That’s exactly why the Tournament of Roses was originated in 1890 by the city’s Valley Hunt Club. The men of this civic organization envisioned the tournament and established a parade of flower decorated horse-drawn carriages as a way to promote their little Southern California city.  Today, the event has developed into one of the biggest New Year’s Day celebrations in the country.  Millions of flowers, buds, seeds and grasses are used to create the floats and make the Rose Parade one of the most beautiful holiday events in the world.

My aunt and uncle with their special bumper sticker that they attached to their motor home for access to the Rose Parade.

When I moved to Los Angeles I wanted to experience the Rose Parade in person.  I never dreamed, as a kid back in Kansas, that one day I would actually huddle alongside all those other people to watch the big floats pass by within yards of where I stood.  I went three times to the parade while living in Southern California.  Veteran Rose Parade-goers will tell you tricks to preparing and staking out the best viewing positions.  For some that means setting up tents the day before and spending the night on the sidewalk along with thousands of other dedicated and determined folks.  The night takes on a festive atmosphere as people bring in the New Year together at their city campsites.

We never camped out choosing instead to arise well before dawn, load up the car with coats, camp stools, ladder, cameras, kids and provisions for the day then drive the 25 miles from our house in the San Fernando Valley to our friends’ home in South Pasadena.  We parked our car in their driveway (a primo place) and hiked towards our desired parade spot.  Experienced parade watchers have their favorite places from which to watch the two-hour moving spectacle.  The first year, we staked out a spot near the start of the parade on California Boulevard and set up a ladder so that we could see over the heads of those lining the street in front of us. Even from our higher elevation, the floats towered above us as they passed by.

My family sat together in the stands for the 100th Rose Parade in 1989.

For the 1989 Rose Parade Centennial,  we were treated to grandstand seats by my uncles and aunts from Phoenix and California who reserved overnight spots for their motor homes in a parking lot right off the parade route.  My parents, who I’m sure never imagined that they would see the Rose Parade firsthand, my brother, Richard, and his young family flew out for the special celebration.  We assembled early at the motor homes for a quick breakfast before the parade began then strolled together to our seats in the grandstand.  We bundled up as it was colder than usual that year and kept ourselves warm by drinking steaming hot cocoa poured from a thermos.  Everyone enjoyed the show except for my two-year-old son who cuddled in my husband’s arms and slept through the entire thing. Afterwards, we retreated to the motor home where we feasted on sandwiches while everyone else streamed out of the stands towards their cars and homes.

My mother, right, and aunt stand alongside a float following the Rose Parade in the post-parade area.

Following lunch, we headed over to where the floats were parked for post-parade viewing open to the public for  a close-up look at the intricate floral work.  Every inch on the floats must be concealed by the flowers or seeds. The colors are even more brilliant and breathtaking when you see each bloom that was painstakingly glued or stuck into place for the day’s parade by the countless volunteers who work through the night before to complete the decorating.  The floats remain in the post-parade viewing area for a few days before being pulled out and towed unceremoniously by tractor to the many warehouses where they are dissembled.

I went for one final Rose Parade with my three sons, then ages five, seven and nine-years-old, in 1995.  My husband chose to stay home. The rest of us arose pre-dawn, packed up the car, drove to Pasadena, parked and walked together up the street to our grandstand seats.  The parade rolled by as we watched live one final time.

In the post-parade viewing area, you get a close look at the flowers that decorate the floats.

Float after float went by interspersed by the marching bands that had come from all over the country to take part.  A little more than midway through the parade, one band in particular caught my eye.  It was the Golden Eagle Marching Band from Ferndale, WA.  Excitedly I pointed out to my sons that this band was from the little town we had visited near Bellingham, where we had vacationed the previous summer.   It had to be serendipitous that the band made its one and only appearance in that Rose Parade. Only two years later, we would be watching  the parade on television from our new home in Bellingham and recalling the New Year’s Days that we had gone to Pasadena to see the Rose Parade.

The 5 Ps For When You Must Leave Include Photos

I’ve been thinking a lot about all my family and friends in Southern California where some of the worst wildfires in the state’s history continue to burn out of control. (Hopefully by the time you read this firefighters will have gained the upper hand.)  Fortunately, the flames have missed most of my family and friends, but last week, two of my dearest friends had to flee their home in the middle of the night.

At the time, theirs was a voluntary evacuation, although the threat has crept ever closer until the fire line is now only a little more than a mile from their home.  They tried to return to their house yesterday to gather a few more belongings but their attempts were thwarted when the main freeway was closed between where they are now staying and their home.

Photos taken of me by my father for our annual Christmas card are among those that I prize now and wouldn’t want to lose in the event of a natural disaster.

They grabbed what they could last week as they quickly abandoned their house.  Among the things that went with them, were their priceless family photo albums and the external hard drives on which they had stored their digital images.

This was on my mind because I’m obviously very concerned and worried for my friends but also because I had heard a television news item earlier last week about the “5 Ps” to take in case you have to evacuate.  Photographs was on the list, along with pets, personal papers, prescriptions and your personal computer.  In a year when this country has seen devastating fires, hurricanes and floods, too many Americans (including those in Puerto Rico where they are still struggling), have had to decide what to take when suddenly told to leave their home.

I have had only one instance in my life when this happened to me. That was the year the 6.7 Northridge earthquake rocked our neighborhood.  When the shaking stopped, we gathered our sons, carried them out to our front lawn and told them not to move while my husband and I went back into the house to collect some items. Plumes of smoke were rising into the air from a nearby fire. We decided to prepare for the worse, not knowing whether another quake would follow or whether the fire would move to our house, pushed by the Santa Ana winds predicted for that day, the same winds driving the terrible fires in Southern California now.

I hadn’t quite learned to sit up in time for my first Christmas as you can see here in this snapshot with my cousins. I particularly love the hand on the right coming in to catch my cousin in case he toppled over.

Among the things I considered essential, were my family’s photo albums and the portraits hanging on my walls. I carried out armful after armful, nearly filling the family van. One reason I could do this was because I kept the albums in one spot and stored the boxes of photos not yet in albums in one place.  This is something I still practice although I now have many more albums, along with the boxes and the photos still to be sorted from my parents’ home.  Some of the photos I couldn’t stand to lose are those from Christmases when I was a kid.

I first wrote about this after the devastating tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma in 2013.  What I said then still goes: nearly everything else, with the exception of family heirlooms, can be covered by insurance or replaced  when destroyed by disaster. But a family’s photographs are truly priceless and often irreplaceable.  I offered then some tips for keeping your photos safe and encourage you to go back for a reminder by clicking here.

Digital photography has made it easier in many ways to archive your precious images by uploading them to a ‘cloud’ storage service, or burning them to CD or storing them on external hard drives, hopefully you do at least two of these.  In addition, make prints of the images that mean the most to you because as wonderful and convenient as ‘cloud’ and digital storage is, there’s still no guarantee that these systems are fail proof. And keep your prints somewhere where you can easily grab them in the event you are ordered to evacuate.

My friends are safe, for now, hoping and waiting for the winds to die down, for fire fighters to gain ground and for the fiery monster approaching their home to be stopped. There is much they will lose if the flames aren’t extinguished, but along with the family pet, their prescriptions, their personal computer they have their family photos.  I hope others who also have had to head for higher ground in rising water, hunker down against a hurricane or run from engulfing fires this year also had the chance to grab their own family’s photos.

None of this matters, of course, if lives are at stake.  There are ways to reconstruct your photographic history if it comes to that, even prior to digital technology.  You may lose some of your most meaningful visual memories, but nothing surmounts the loss of life.

 

Take Pictures, Lots of Them

There’s an ad currently airing on American television in which the main character tells the viewer to “Take pictures, lots of them. In 20 years, you’ll be glad you did.”  Honestly, I can’t remember the advertiser, or much else about that ad, but that one line stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a photographer and pictures are not only my livelihood, they are my life.

In reality, I think people are actually taking more pictures than ever before. Consider just how easy it is to record images on devices such as phones and tablets, let alone digital cameras.  People are snapping pictures of themselves, their kids, their dogs, their food, whatever, every time you turn around. Just the other day, for instance, on my drive to Vancouver B.C., I watched in amusement as a couple, one-armed with a digital camera, the other with a phone on a ‘selfie stick’ struck a variety of stances in front of a bed of flowers planted in the color and shape of the Canadian flag. Their on camera antics were highly entertaining as I, and a long line of others, inched towards the border crossing in our cars.

So yes, people are undoubtedly taking more pictures than ever before. But it’s the second part of that advertising phrase that TK me.  In 20 years, will the people who took those images, or their progeny be able to see those pictures, or even know where they to find them?  It struck me because recently Photo Central, a photo supply store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, posted this image here onto their Facebook page.

The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you'll have them when your technology is outdated.
The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you’ll have them when your technology is outdated.

They have a point, one that I hope everyone who clicks a camera or presses a phone will take to heart.  I print all my own personal and professional digital images for myself and those of my clients.  Because, as I so often explain to potential clients who say they only want ‘digital images’, I want them to have that image in 20, 30, 50 years or more down the road.

Photo Central’s picture drew my attention too because one of my brothers’  recently had been researching our family history on-line.  He started it to determine whether or not one of relatives, James Crooks from North Carolina, fought with the Union forces at Gettysburg during the Civil War. He didn’t.  During his hunt, he uncovered not only some new tidbits about the family–that some members served in the American Revolution for instance–but found some old photos of great, great, great (maybe another great in there) relatives.  Like this one of Catharine Darr, who,  according to the research done by my brother, was the mother-in-law of one David Crooks of Lincolnton, N.C. , our great, great-grandfather and the father of James, mentioned above.

While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.
While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.f

It is he, who, according to family legend and my own father, told his son James when war between the states was imminent that “one day, these rivers will run with blood. When they do, you need to go North.”  In 1864 at the age of 19 or 20, he signed up the 13th Tennessee Calvary Regiment.  He may be one of those pictured in the reunion photos found on the regimental website. (I’d post one of the pictures here but the website strictly forbids copying them.)  But I can show you the photo my brother found of Catharine Darr who lived from 1794-1888, was married to Jacob Barrier and was mother-in-law to David, father of James.   Had this been an image taken with digital technology, we might not have this photograph.

My brother also found photos of the “Rock House” built by Adam Sprach Sr., our sixth great-grandfather. who was born in Pfaffenhofen, Germany in 1820 and came to the U.S. with his parents. They settled in North Carolina. In 1754, Adam moved near  Bethabara, N.C. and built himself a sturdy house, seen here,  of uncut stone, laid up without mortar, except for plastering inside. As you can see from the photos, there is a lower level beneath this one-story house. 

Adam Sprach's rock house had a basebment with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.
Adam Sprach’s rock house had a basement with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.

According to my brother’s research,  the house basement had an outside entrance so that during attacks, Sprach gathered his cows and drove them into the basement for protection. Each room also had loopholes, through which the defenders could fire. You can see in the pictures both the lower level door and loopholes in the walls.  But if these photographs didn’t exist, we would see neither.

This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it's a pixelated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.
This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it’s a pixellated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.

Then there’s the photo that I love best, the one of my own Grandfather Crooks’ sister, Katherine Crooks Moore.  She was a music teacher and is shown in this wonderful old photograph from 1907 in a class portrait. I believe that she’s standing, fourth from the left on the back row.  Don’t you wonder where they got all those guitars and mandolins?  Particularly since instruments weren’t cheap or easy to come by in those days.  I had never seen this photograph, or remember seeing one of my Grandfather’s sister before this one.  It’s a delightful picture to have. I’m glad it survived.

My great aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.
My great-aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.

Of course, my point is, that taking pictures is great.  But whether it’s a snapshot done with one of your own devices, or a professional portrait created by someone like myself, without prints, the images you take today might not be around in 20 years. And it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be there in 100 years or more, like these of my own family. Prints offer you a glimpse into your personal past, they bring alive your history and they are, by and large, permanent. Digital images can be deleted, erased, lost in cyberspace, corrupted or become merely ‘inaccessible’. So take pictures, lots of them. But please, also be sure you have prints of at least the ones most important to you because one day, someone’s brother may want to look back and learn about your family history.

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Squirreling Away Your Images

We have squirrels galore here in my part of the country. In fact, just yesterday I watched from my kitchen window as a squirrel straddled two nearby trees and nimbly chewed a tasty morsel. Made me think of this week’s power failure that took down the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for several hours. Why?  Because those adorable fluffy tailed rodents have been the culprits responsible for two previous power failures of the NYSE. They were not blamed for this most recent failure, as I understand it, but the interruption to trading made me stop and think about something I constantly encourage my clients and friends to do–make prints of your precious digital images.

Some of you I know are asking: “What’s the New York Stock Exchange take down got to do with my pictures?”  I’ll explain.

A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE 'take down' earlier this week.
A squirrel, not this one, was responsible for the NYSE ‘take down’ earlier this week.

As I tell all my clients and friends, digital images are in no way of the imagination a permanent record.  Many things can happen to them that can cause them to vanish–pouf!–in the blink of a computer screen.  Your computer’s hard drive can, and eventually will, fail. So will your external hard drives (happened to me just this fall). The CDs on which you my burn your images (and documents) will not work on computers in the future, many don’t already–again personal experience. Flash drives are great but try finding your images when you need them. Cloud storage you say?  Ah, yes, not fail-proof either although probably better than the heretofore mentioned storage systems.  But I know of at least one professional photographer who lost all his stored images when the ‘cloud’ storage company he was using closed its ‘doors’.

Don’t take my word for it. In an address to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society, Vint Cerf told the audience that we’re may be heading towards  a “forgotten generation or even a forgotten century,’ according to Professional Photographer Magazine‘s June issue.  As Cerf said:  “When you think about the quantity of documentation from our daily lives that is captured in digital form, like our interactions by email, people’s tweets, and all of the World Wide Web, it’s clear that we stand to lose an awful lot of our history.”

Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential 'digital Dark Ages.' Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.
Cerf was inducted to the Internet Hall of Fame and warns us of a potential ‘digital Dark Ages.’ Photo courtesy of Internet Hall of Fame.

Cerf knows whereof he speaks.  A Vice President of Google, he’s regarded as one of the founders of the Internet. Cerf warns of a possible Digital Dark Ages where the digital photos, documents, e-mails that we store today on our computers or on the cloud, will not be retrievable to you because the bits on which they were written can no longer be read by current technology.  Cerf has proposed an idea that would ‘capture the digital environment in which those bits were created’ so that they can be recreated and reproduced in the distant future.  He calls this ‘digital vellum.’

But another solution is for people to actually print out the images or documents that hold the most meaning for them.  I am an advocate for printed photographs, as is the Professional Photographers of America, the professional association to which I belong . As the PPA’s director of publication, Jane Gaboury puts it:  “…prints are the only way to ensure a pictorial history for generations of our families as well as for society.”

This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.
This charming snapshot of my Dad was taken when he was just a child.

This has become especially close to home for me during the past year as I have sifted through the many photographs handed over to me from my mother and father’s collection of family photo albums.  Without prints, I might not have this connection to my family’s past. The charming photo of my Dad as young toddler feeding the ducks on the farm might be forever gone. As might be those of my own childhood, or those of my sons. So when clients come to me for a professional family or senior portrait, I insist on creating prints for them, instead of or in addition to, digital images.

I create prints for all my studio clients, just as I did of this one, which I call ‘Family Heirloom” of my parents and my sons.

I often joke that what will happen to their images should one evening, the janitor who’s sweeping up in the Cloud office after everyone’s gone for the night, accidentally snags the cord and unplugs the mainframe? I never thought it could be something else, something as simple as say, as a squirrel.

A Snap in Time

A friend of mine is in the process of downsizing from her big two-story house where she raised her family to a smaller place. She’s sorting through all the things that she neatly stored away in her attic. Drawings her sons made in grade school, letters from old friends, newspaper clippings about family milestones and lots of other mementos that she intended to one day pass on to her sons or future grandchildren. She sadly confessed to me the other day that she simply will not have the space to put everything in her new home. And that, she told me, includes all the boxes of photographs collected from over the years and taken of her kids, family and friends.

She’s now trying to figure out exactly what to do with them all. It’s a dilemma many of us have faced at one time or another in our lives. I suppose it’s a fair assumption to say that it’s less likely to be a problem for those who began snapping photos after the advent of digital photography. (The accumulation of digital photos presents its own sort of new problems. Maybe a topic for a future blog.) She’s considering tossing them after scanning and saving the prints to CDs, flash cards or external hard drives which would take up less space. But that is not a foolproof solution for storing and preserving your precious family photographs and snapshots. Those systems can fail too and in a single instant all your visual memories disappear. Forever.

This snapshot is taken from my Dad's family albums and shows him and some of his siblings enjoying a slice of watermelon. If you look carefully, you can see two men in the background the identities of whom I'm uncertain.
This snapshot is taken from my Dad’s family albums and shows him and some of his siblings enjoying a slice of watermelon. If you look carefully, you can see two men in the background the identities of whom I’m uncertain.

When that happens, and I’m sure nearly everyone these days knows someone who has “lost” their pictures or documents to a digital disaster, not only have your memories, once so well-preserved on paper, vanished, so has very important information that could serve generations to come.  The tradition of the ‘snapshot’ has been around since the first Kodak cameras in 1888 popularized and made more affordable to everyone the hobby of photography. People became entranced with taking pictures of one another in all sorts of situations–on vacations, family outings, celebrations, in their homes, businesses, churches and farms–doing all sorts of things.

The great American pasttime of baseball being played by my uncles as children on their family farm. An unknown photographer captured my uncle Buck's wind-up just as he was about to toss the ball to his younger brother, James.
The great American past time of baseball being played by my uncles as children on their family farm. An unknown photographer captured my uncle Buck’s wind-up just as he was about to toss the ball to his younger brother, James.

Those snapshots are often passed on to the next generation.  I myself have boxes of personal snapshots recently received from my parents’ home after my Dad died last spring. I now have the task of looking through them all, which I did frequently during my last visits to my parents’ home, deciding which to scan and then determining to whom the original prints should be handed. At the same time, I’m learning things about my family that I never knew, had forgotten or didn’t remember correctly.

This snapshot of my mother, brother and I on the porch where our refrigerator loaded with Coca-Cola brings back warm memories of my childhood home.
This snapshot of my mother, brother and I on the porch where our refrigerator loaded with Coca-Cola brings back warm memories of my childhood home.

The snapshot plays an important part of American culture. Unlike any other time in history, we can glimpse back into the past two hundred fifty years by looking at an actual photograph taken at that time.  Since the early 1900s, many of those photographs are ‘snapshots’ recorded by amateur photographers wanting to remember the day and to share it with their family and friends. From these everyday pictures stored away in photo albums, in shoeboxes, in slide trays or the like, we can learn what life was like for our family, what was important to them, what they wore, whom they loved, how they enjoyed their time together, where they went and what they saw.  In short, through these images, we can peer into their lives as preserved so well on paper in black and white and later, color. They can make us happy or a bit sad, cause us to reminisce or sometimes bring pain, solve mysteries or begin one. All this, from just a few inches of photographic paper. I find this pretty remarkable.

Mmy Grandmother's face is peeking out from the bush like a flower in this snapshot but I don't know the circumstnaces behind it. A mystery!.
My Grandmother’s face is peeking out from the bush like a flower in this snapshot but I don’t know the circumstances behind it. A mystery!.

I was reminded of the inestimable worth of the common snapshot when reading a recent article by Jon Feinstein on the Humble Arts Foundation blog. Feinstein was writing about Seattle-based Robert E. Jackson, a serious collector of American snapshots.  Some of Jackson’s more than 11,000 snapshots have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and at galleries in New York City, Los Angeles and Texas. Jackson is interested in the aesthetic and ‘unintentional’ artistic qualities found in snapshots rather than the historic aspects. Yet another reason why snapshots hold value and significance for people.

This snapshot of my mother, probably in her early 20s, performing a handstand for the camera is one of my personal favorites.
This snapshot of my mother, probably in her early 20s, performing a handstand for the camera is one of my personal favorites.

While your own, or my friend’s or my family snapshots may never be displayed at a gallery, they may be displayed in your home, on digital frames, in albums or on your walls. Even if you, like my friend, choose to scan and digitize your photos, be sure to hang on to the original prints. If you no longer have the space to keep them or don’t want to keep them all, select the ones most meaningful to you or your family to save so that future generations, who may not have access to your digital files, will have clues to who you were and the time you lived. For those that you decide not to keep, perhaps others in your family may want them. Or box them up and offer them to collectors such as Jackson or even your local museums or libraries who may want to add some or all of them to their collections or archives.

The snapshot continues to evolve with the emergence of new technology but one thing is for certain, it is here to stay.

You can read more about the impact that the snapshot has had on our society in a recent Smithsonian magazine article: The Invention of the ‘Snapshot’ Changed the Way We Viewed the World by Clive Thompson.

Family Photos Relate Past to Present

Early last month, I made a weekend trip to visit my cousins in neighboring Oregon and to help celebrate my aunt’s birthday. I packed just enough clothing for a couple of days. And I took along some of the old family photograph albums that had been at my parent’s home until my father passed away this past spring.  My Dad had designated me to be the family ‘historian’ I guess and placed me in charge of sorting through all the photograph albums, movies and slides that they had accumulated through the years.

I had already begun this process during the many visits to see my parents in recent years. Since I was on West Coast time, I was often awake long after my parents retired for the night. I’d sit in my Dad’s recliner chair in the family room with a pile of loose photos on my lap. While watching a movie, I’d slip them into albums. I knew that one of the things that my mother, who had dementia, could still enjoy was looking through the old family photos. Until the onset of her disability, my mother had put together the photo albums and had taken care to label many of them, especially the ones from her childhood and youth, on the reverse side.

Scenes from everyday life   of my family tell us what they liked to do together. Here, my aunt and uncle are ready for a game of tennis.
Scenes from everyday life of my family tell us what they liked to do together. Here, my aunt and uncle have their racquets ready for a game of tennis.

Some nights, instead of assembling an album, I’d pull out one of the older albums. I handled them delicately because the black or faded yellow paper scrapbook pages, to which the photos were affixed with little black corners, were pretty brittle. Carefully, I’d turn through the pages, reviewing my family history and becoming acquainted with the faces and events that belonged to my relatives generations before me. It was like stepping into my own personal time capsule. Their stories unfolded as I gently lifted the individual prints out of their spot to read what had been written on the back.

Pictures of my family members from the past show us how much our family members today resemble them.
Pictures of my family members from the past show us how much our family members today resemble them.

Captions such as “Clara and Hulda Lonberg. Made in Doling Park Springfield, Mo. about  1912”  or “Lonberg Family Reunion” gave me clues to the time and place of the photo. It was not information that had much bearing on the history of things at large, and yet, these simple people did help to shape a country in their coming from their original homeland to settle here, to work and build homes, farms, businesses, schools and churches and, most importantly, to raise a family.

I carried with me to my cousins some of these books of collected visual memories to share with them. They had probably not seen many, if any, of these photographs, I guessed, because they had seldom visited my parents’ home in Kansas and when they did, I doubted that the albums had ever come out. Or, if they did, a long time had since passed.

Late one evening, after the littlest family members had gone to bed and the guys were in the family room talking about football, I sat down at the kitchen table with my cousin and my aunt and opened one of the books I had brought. It was like story-time in kindergarten class. My cousin was captivated by the people I paraded past her as I turned the pages.  She was thrilled because in one of the albums that once belonged to another aunt who had died a few years earlier were snapshots taken at my cousin’s own parents’ wedding. She had never seen them.

My cousin had never seen this photo of her parents taken on their wedding day.
My cousin had never seen this photo of her parents taken on their wedding day.

My aunt, her mother, who was sitting beside us smiled as she remembered that important day. Tears welled in her eyes as she recognized her sisters and brothers with whom she had grown up.  We broke into laughter when a photo prompted a memory about something silly that one of them had done.

For two hours, we turned through those fragile pages, asked questions of my aunt, read the snippets of information recorded, and studied the people and places preserved in the photos. The time passed quickly and left us tired–it was well after midnight–but wanting to see and know more. I promised to scan and share them all with my cousins, and to give to them the originals of the photos that were of their mother so that one day, they could sit down, as we had that night, and relate to their own grandchildren the history that is ours.

the family lines up at a reunion for a group photo that preserves the day forever.
The family lines up at a reunion for a group photo that preserves the day forever.

PostScript:  I have since started a group on Facebook for both sides of my family and have systematically been placing the old family photos in them as I scan them. We also now have an album in Dropbox dedicated for that purpose. The only ones with access to them are our family members who can download, save and print them for themselves. You might want to consider doing something similar for your own family.  But with hacking incidents such as the most recent one involving the iCloud, I’d still recommend making prints of all your most precious family photos.

Picturing Dad

This Father’s Day will be very different for me. It will be the first year without my father who died at age 94 just two months ago after a long, happy and fruitful life.  I read what I had written for this blog last year at this time.  I’m now very glad I wrote what I did, when I did so that he could read it too.  We sometimes forget, or just don’t take time, to tell those who matter most to us in our lives exactly how we feel about them.  You can read or re-read what I wrote about my Dad last year by clicking on this link:https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/celebrating-dad/ . It will take you there.

This Father’s Day I have a room full of boxes of albums, loose and framed photos, home movies and slides that one of my brother’s hauled out from Kansas to me just this past week.  My father, in written instructions, appointed me in charge of sorting through and dividing up the family’s photo archives. And when you’re a photographer’s daughter, that’s a huge responsibility. Fortunately, my mother, also now deceased, had gone through many of their personal photographs years ago. She thoughtfully separated many of them into boxes, each carefully labeled with my and my brothers’ names.  She placed many into photo albums according to date. When,due to her dementia, she became too disabled to do more, I took over the job.

Sometimes your fondest memories of your Dad are of the everyday jobs.  This photo of my father, taken just this past March, was one of the last I made of him at his home.  He loved to ride his lawn mower and spent nearly an hour on it that day. I'm so very glad now that I stopped to catch him in this photo.
Sometimes your fondest memories of your Dad are of the everyday jobs. This photo of my father, taken just this past March, was one of the last I made of him at his home. He loved to ride his lawn mower and spent nearly an hour on it that day. I’m so very glad now that I stopped to catch him in this photo.

During my trips to visit my parents in recent years, I spent many late nights, after they had both gone to bed, sitting in front of the television, organizing and sliding photos into albums. Instead of putting them into chronological order, I categorized the albums into subject matter. This is something I had done with my own family’s photos.  I often can’t remember exactly what year I took the trip or when a particular event, other than a life milestone, may have happened.  I have divided and placed my photos into an album of the same subject. I can more easily find or reference it without having to go through several albums or yes, even those shoebox-size storage cartons.

I did the same for my parents.  There’s an album devoted to my mother’s family reunions, another of my Dad’s Army reunions and some with just photos from their more recent vacations.  I made a couple containing photos of just my own family taken during visits with each other and of other photos I had sent to them to keep them updated on my family’s activities and growth.  Still another album is of my Dad’s photography career and includes clippings from the newspaper as well as other mementos from his portrait studio.  We took that album, as well as the one I had assembled about his military service, to the funeral home so that those who came could look through it.  Many did.

From my parents' vacation album comes this photo of myself with them and two of my sons taken during our cruise together to Alaska.
From my parents’ vacation album comes this photo of myself with them and two of my sons taken during our cruise together to Alaska.

It’s now a popular choice to make printed books of one’s digital photos. I’ve done it myself.  In fact, I offer “Memory Books” and “Signature Albums” to both my high school senior and family clients.  It’s been a very well received product among my studio clients.  But I still make individual prints of my personal family ‘snapshots’ and I encourage others to do the same. I don’t sell digital images to my professional clients, except for business purposes.  I know many professional photographers do, but I personally regard it as a disservice to my clients.  Computer manufacturers are turning out both desk and laptop machines today that have no CD drives.

I have stored away three and five-inch floppy drives of articles, written during my career as a journalist, on a word processing program that no longer exists, on a computer operating system that no longer exists, on a computer that no longer exists.  If I hadn’t had the foresight to print out ‘hard’ copies of all those articles, I’d have no record, (other than the on-line versions) of my many contributions to the world of journalism.

Another photo from one of my parents' albums recalls a visit with his three grandsons to the place where he had grown up. There wasn't anything left of his childhood farmhouse except part of the home's rock wall. But we have it now preserved in this precious photograph.
Another photo from one of my parents’ albums recalls a visit with his three grandsons to the place where he had grown up. There wasn’t anything left of his childhood farmhouse except part of the home’s rock wall. But we have it now preserved in this precious photograph.

It’s the same with my own photographs, for both my professional and personal work.   I advise making prints of any photo that has any significant personal value to you, another reason my studio sells prints instead of digital images. I know, there’s always the ‘Cloud’.  But it wasn’t always there, nor is there any guarantee that it will always be there or in its present day form. Or that the access you have now will be same. Think of  how many times people have told you that  their computers ‘crashed’ and that they lost all their photos stored on it. (You must back-up your digital photos onto an external drive, on-line storage or even CD.)

This simple photo of my Dad, made in 2010, is one of my favorites. I took it at his home while visiting there one day when he went out to check his mailbox.
This simple photo of my Dad, made in 2010, is one of my favorites. I took it at his home while visiting there one day when he went out to check his mailbox.

To have an album full of  photos  is a treasure. I realize how much of a treasure it truly is since my father’s passing. I don’t have him this Father’s Day to wish him a happy day, or to tell him how much I love him and how much I appreciate all that he has done for me through the years.  But I can look back, turn through the pages of those albums that I now must sort through and remember the times growing up, doing things together, celebrating holidays, taking vacations, visiting relatives, sharing meals or just living everyday life.  All those priceless memories captured forever in a photo.  Thanks, Dad.

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.

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.