There are three things I like about funerals: meeting old friends and relatives, unlimited quantities of food and browsing old photographs. A few weeks ago my sister and sister-in-law went through my mother’s closets and found a stash of old photographs that had eluded my frequent attempts to catalog and archive family pictures.
I have a thing about family pictures. If you want to piss me off make a big pile of your family’s pictures and set them on fire! For reasons that are utterly inexplicable to me many of you don’t seem to give a damn about your family pictures. My wife’s father was a very organized photographer that took hundreds, maybe thousands, of black and white snapshots in Iran from the 1940s to the 1970s. Apparently he took the time to meticulously label each print with where, when and who information. I would love to paw through his pictures but that’s not possible because his kids, my wife’s siblings, trashed most of his pictures. The few that survive, like this one of him sitting and reading a newspaper, hint at a never to seen again world.
Such crimes against imagery are common. My maternal grandmother was also a keen unorganized photographer. She didn’t label prints or neatly file slides but she shot everything that caught her eye. Over six decades she piled up thousands of images, but when she moved into town, she accidentally sold stacks of what she thought were empty slide carousels to yard sale strangers. Some of the carousels were empty but the rest held the bulk or her slide collection. The surviving images, like this old Kodachrome of my great-grandmother and her sister, constantly remind me of all the great shots I will never see! Don’t trash your family pictures you will grow to regret it.
My mother’s recently recovered stash held a few gems I had never seen like this great little snapshot of my maternal grandmother with her two daughters: my late mother as a pouty girl and my aunt as a baby. The old car in the background would be marked down as a “distracting element” in many photography classes. This merely shows how bad the advice and guidelines dispensed in such courses can be. The car is an essential element; it turns a nice snapshot into a sweet period piece.
Here’s another snapshot of my mother and aunt with a puppy. This picture is almost seventy years old but I still see the same expression on my aunt’s face. Your smile is a lifelong affliction; I would recommend getting used to it.
Along with the amateur snapshots a number of professional studio portraits turned up. The following is a hand tinted print of my mother as a ten-year old. Color photography obliterated the art of hand tinting. It is rarely seen outside of photographic art classes today. Tinting is often unnatural and hokey but it sometimes lends an eerie painting quality. Here the tinting works. Tinted prints are becoming rare and valuable. Don’t throw them away!
Finally, here’s a wonderful never seen portrait of my mother as an eleven year old. This may be the best portrait of my mother at any age. The studio photographer caught her in the middle of a great smile. This picture was taken over six decades ago but I doubt that modern imaging technology could significantly improve it.
Finding this portrait shortly after my mother’s death took away some of the sting. I had a great mother, and because I treat family pictures with the respect they deserve, I have the photographic evidence to prove it.