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 Make prints of your precious photographs so you'll have them when your technology is outdated.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 Make prints of your precious photographs so you’ll have them when your technology is outdated.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.

Wwhhat, A Dog

My conversation with my brother nearly 15 years ago sounded like a routine by Abbott and Costello.

“I got a dog,” he says. “It’s a beagle.”

“What is its name?” I ask.

“That’s right,” he says.

“What?” I say.

‘Yes, Wwhhat,” he says.

“Wwhhat’s the dog’s name?” I ask.

“That’s right, Wwhhat.” he says.

“Wait a minute, the name of your dog is Wwhhat?” I say.

“Yes, the dog is Wwhhat,” he says.

After 15 years of companionship, my brother had to say goodby Wwhhat. She had lived a long life but developed several health problems in recent years that caused her some pain in her back legs. She still wagged her tail, however, whenever I showed up on a visit to my father’s house, where she now stayed. She was deaf, but I think it was more like selective hearing because whenever I said to her, “Let’s go inside, ” she came right to the door of the house.

What sleeps peacefully in front of the television. When she was younger, she'd keep me awake at night when baying at anything and everything that moved in the dark.
What sleeps peacefully in front of the television. When she was younger, she’d keep me awake at night when baying at anything and everything that moved in the dark.

Wwhhat and I didn’t exactly get off to a great start. When I first met her, she was a young dog, living with my brother.  She slept outdoors at night.  I slept in the guest room, or rather tried to sleep but couldn’t because she was right outside my window baying at anything that moved in the dark.  The next day, she slept peacefully while I stumbled through the day. In time, however, we became good friends and when she eventually came to live with my father a few years ago, I came to think of her as my dog in Kansas, especially after my own dog died. She kept me company during my visits, staying up with me long after my parents had retired, going on short walks when she was still able, lying nearby whenever I was out working in their garden.

I tearfully gave her head one last scratch and watched broken-heartedly as my brother bravely carried her out to the car, her legs dangling because to carry her any other way would have hurt her back. I’d never see her again. I’m sure my feeling of loss was small in comparison to that of my brother’s.

May was my 'studio assistant' and companion for 12 years.  She was the only other 'girl' in our family.
May was my ‘studio assistant’ and companion for 12 years. She was the only other ‘girl’ in our family.

Our pets are more than just companions; they’re members of our family.  My own dog, May, was always included in my own family group portraits; she stayed with me in the studio and accompanied me nearly everywhere. Now I have all those memories and visual records of her.  That’s one reason I always encourage my studio clients to include the family pet it in their own portrait session. Most do.

Some of my clients schedule portrait sessions of the pet themselves as did, Barbara, t0 surprise her husband for Christmas. Tabetha, a sweet, short-haired terrier, came to the studio with Barbara last December. She was a natural in front of the camera.

Tabetha's portrait was a surprise Christmas gift for her master.  Now it's a cherished memory.
Tabetha’s portrait was a surprise Christmas gift for her master. Now it’s a cherished memory.

Her bright little eyes lit up and she cocked her head as Barbara and I talked to her from behind my camera. I grabbed the shot. We did a few more of Tabetha with  Barbara and her daughter, Sarah. Her husband loved them all, Barbara said.

Last month, Barbara contacted me to let me know that Tabetha had died. She thanked me for portraits I had done of her and said:  “I look at her every day, and of course miss her  so terribly much…Thanks again for preserving her in memory.”

It’s words and portraits like these that gives me a warm feeling in my work as a professional photographer. Like Barbara, I too cherish the pictures I have of my dog, May and those of  my brother’s dog, Wwhhat.  As the great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once wrote:   ‘We photographers deal in things that are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth that can make them come back again…”

Tabetha with Barbara and her daughter, Sarah in their portrait together.
Tabetha with Barbara and her daughter, Sarah, in their portrait together.

To read more about What see my brother’s blog post:  http://bit.ly/Z0JXSM.

And click on this link to check out more of my portraits of families with their dogs on my blog’s Portfolio page:  https://cherylcrooksphotography.wordpress.com/portfolio/

Bellingham’s Music Festival

The Bellingham Festival of Music opened this weekend in Bellingham with a concert featuring pianist Jeremy Denk performing a Mozart Piano Concerto.  This evening, the second in the two-week series of performances takes place with the renown violinist, Joshua Bell, soloing in Samuel Barber’s  Violin Concerto, Op. 14.  To have two concert artists of this caliber playing nearly back to back in a city the size of Bellingham is one of the reasons the Bellingham Festival is so incredible.

The Festival, now in its 19th season, is, in fact one of the reasons that my husband and I chose Bellingham when we decided to relocate from Los Angeles.  Bellingham has many amazing amenities and for us, the Festival was one of the most amazing.  Each year, musicians occupying prinicipal chairs from major orchestras around the country–including former New York Philharmonic prinicpal oboist Joseph Robinson– come to Bellingham to be part of the Festival’s orchestra led by conductor Michael Palmer.

Festival conductor Michael Palmer and guest Michael Yip on board the Fourth of July cruise of Bellingham Bay.
Festival conductor Michael Palmer, in they.

And, each year, maestro Palmer does an astounding  job of bringing these players together with a short amount of rehearsal time to become one of America’s finest festival orchestras.  To top it off, world-class soloists, such as Bell and Denk this year, and pianists Garrick Ohlssen and  Horacio Gutierrez, violinist Stefan Jackiw and vocalists Heidi Murphy-Grant, Josie Perez and  Katie Van Kooten, appear with the orchestra as guest artists.     The Festival is a summer treat for Bellinghamsters and visitors alike who, over the years, have made it part of their summer schedule.  My husband and I are among them.  Many of the concerts take place at Western Washington University’s Performing Arts Center, just a short walk from my studio.  On more than one occasion, when sitting in the audience, I have to remind myself that I’m in Bellingham listening to this outstanding music and not in a concert hall in Seattle or New York or Los Angeles.Consequently, I try to support the Festival however I can.  This year, I was among many donors to its annual fund-raising auction.  I gladly gave a family group portrait as part of the evening’s offerings.    And I was lucky enough to join other Festival supporters and musicians for a Fourth of July cruise in Bellingham Bay, courtesy of two other auction donors, Carol and Bob Snowball.  The Snowballs hosted 18 of us on their beautiful boat.  With clear skies, calm waters and warm temperatures, the conditions, and the company couldn’t have been more perfect.

The Van Horns purchased my family portrait auction donation for a group portrait of their family, including one of themselves with their daughter and dog at their Bellingham home.

Like myself and the Snowballs, the Festival brings terrific music to our doorstep and we are grateful for it.

You can learn more about the Bellingham Festival of Music at its website:  www.bellinghamfestival.org.  Hope to see you at  a concert!