Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Neverending Project

When I was growing up, my mom was like a lot of other moms in that she took photos of all the holidays and milestones and vacations and dutifully put them in albums; but my mom, much like myself, also liked to take pictures of random shit. Often. Everybody does it nowadays. Entire corporations have been founded around this. Facebook would practically collapse if we didn't see at least 57 pictures of your sweaty margarita on Friday afternoon or your dog's new haircut.  I am not making fun. Trust me. (I took 17 shots of Mr. Bean's last grooming before I got a picture of him not looking like a war refugee and you're damn skippy I Instagrammed that thing WITH FILTERS).  But my mom lived most of her life before Facebook and Instagram so she didn't post her pictures. She printed them and put them in a box. Then a bigger box. Then a cedar chest that would hold a bunch of boxes. She had pictures crammed into books, stuffed into drawers, albums overflowing-- they were everywhere.  For years I asked my mom to give me pictures from when I was growing up and she never would. Then, about 4 or 5 years ago, it changed. Whenever I'd go to Little Rock for a visit, she'd let me sit and go through boxes, picking out pictures to take home. At first she'd ask me to send them back to her when I was done with them but then after a while, she stopped asking and just let me keep them. I didn't take much at first, just maybe 10 or 15 pictures at a time, but when she loosened up a little and told me to take what I wanted, I scooped up a whole album and said, "Can I have this?"  It pained her to part with it, but she did.  

When mom died, the first thing I did when I got home was go to that cedar box and open it up and start looking through pictures. I think pictures show you a lot of things. They show you the obvious: the subjects, of course, but they also tell you so much about the person who takes them and the person who keeps them. What they love, who they love, what their viewpoint (LITERALLY) is. I guess that's why they're so fascinating to me. Because I feel like even though I knew my mom pretty well, there's a whole deeper dimension to know in those pictures. So, while I was there, I scooped up as many pictures as I could reasonably carry and I took them back home with me. I've been going through them ever since.

Every weekday, I pick out about 10-15 pictures. I scan them, then I try to fix anything that needs fixing in Photoshop and I upload them to an online photo archive separating them out by decade. I've gone through a few hundred by now and I've not even gotten to a quarter of them. And these that I took barely made a dent in my mom's collection. It's not an exaggeration to say that there are thousands upon thousands of photos my mom took over the years. And they're not all gems. I just went through a stack that had no less than 5 pictures of my mom's dog we had in the 1980's looking likes she chewing her own butt. (DO YOU SEE WHERE I GET THESE THINGS??)

There are so many photos that I've never even seen before. I'm not even sure who some of the people are in them. But in some weird way, it soothes me to do this. Sometimes, the pictures are these tiny little cutouts (I don't know why she did this, it drives me insane) that I have to glue to a larger sheet before I can even scan it. like this:

That I then cropped and turned into this (and yes, that's me when I was Rowan's age).
Sometimes, I'm scanning and cropping and then trying to figure out how to fix the yellowing pinkysoriasis (my technical term for it) that happens to old photos, like so:

I am pretty sure this is my mom's grandmother.

Luckily, Photoshop has some handy/dandy tools you can just click and point onto and it will mainly fix it. One heartbreak I have is that there was about a five year period where my mom used her Polaroid camera exclusively. Good Lord did Polaroid Cameras suck. No matter what you do, all the pictures are crappy. They were INSTANT! But they were crappy.  What I wouldn't do for a clear, non-polaroid version of this picture:
Thanksgiving, 1982.

If anyone has, or can point me to a tutorial on how to fix POLAROID in Photoshop, please hit me up.

Here are some of the other photos I was working on this morning: 
My mom and her sister Robyn, year?? I'm guessing probably 1949 or 1950

My mom and Uncle Frank, Christmas. I think the little girl in the hat is her sister Robyn. No clue on the little boy.

I adore this photo. I'm pretty sure it's my mom and her sister Robyn. There's no date, but on the back it says, "I have no idea what to call this." heh.

This is my Dad's mom holding my brother and her one-time husband
 (not my Grandfather) holding my sister. I have no idea what One Time
 Grandpa's name was. Seriously, no idea.

So, this is my neverending project.  I expect this to take me 
YEARS to finish, if I ever get finished. But I'm hoping by doing 
this and putting them in the online archive, my family can look at them too and, yes, order prints if they want to, but also remember,
  SO much. It's daunting. But I think Bonnie would approve. 

Note: Family members that would like the links to the archive, email me at  I promise I've culled the pictures of Muffin's butt.

1 comment:

Older not wiser said...

One time Grandpa was George Bell. The little boy would be Carl or Bobby. Yes, that is Great Grandma Fritsch coming down the stairs. I adore the 1982 photo-I've never seen it before!