Photos and Stories and Families, Oh My!


It's the memories that make the photos speak.

By Kurt Rump

Ah, the magic of old family photos.

You look at one and, in an instant, neurons start firing in your brain as you vividly recall episodes from your past. Your memories can trigger a whole spectrum of possible emotions:

  • Love… as you relive special moments from your wedding day photos,
  • Anxiety… as your knees grow weak all over again just looking at the photo of your daughter crossing that rickety foot bridge on the trail ahead, spanning the river gorge far below.
  • Curiosity… as you study a photo of your mother, then a teenager, and wonder who is with her in that picture, and what the occasion was.

The feelings are real… often joyful… and reliving them can be rewarding.

Memories are special. You have a treasure trove of knowledge and experiences from past events that you have collected throughout your life. That’s why your photos deserve a home.

But giving them a home can seem overwhelming. Where do you begin? They are in so many places!

  • Old family photos could be in boxes, photo albums, scrapbooks, envelopes, or slide carousels.
  • Maybe some have been digitized onto hard drives, CDs, or thumb drives.
  • More recent family photos could be on your current phone, your old phone, your digital camera, or somewhere in the cloud.

On top of that, you might be struggling with some basic questions:

  • How should you organize your photos?
  • What approach should you use? Scrapbooks? Digital scrapbooks? Photo albums?
  • Do you have the time?
  • What is the cost of supplies? Software?

Despite your uncertainties, deep down you know the act of reclaiming old family photos… organizing them… will be satisfying. Dozens of wonderful memories, otherwise forgotten, will come flooding back.

But wait!

The old family photos are important, but it’s your memories that bring you joy… the stories behind the photos. More than simply organizing photos, you also want to document the memories.

Up to now, I’ve been talking about photos and memories as if they were interchangeable. Synonyms. Different ways of referring to the same thing.

But they are not. They are more like a nut and a bolt, two separate things that are meant to be connected. Stories give your old photos context. I’ve made this point before in other posts, but it bears repeating. A photo without context is just a picture. Your memories are what give it context.

So yes, your photos deserve a home, but it should be a home where your memories can also live. A place where your kids and grandkids can discover them… and along the way, learn more about you.

Which introduces another consideration… what about families? Or close friends?

You haven’t lived life in a silo. Most things worth remembering occurred in the company of others. And whether the “others” were family members… or close friends that “feel like family,” it’s more satisfying to remember those things together.

People remember things differently. Details that were distinct to you may have been missed entirely by others, and likewise the other way around. You see it all the time in “kitchen table” conversations. Stories get told differently.

So, a great way to tell stories… and share stories… is through photos.

But how do you accomplish all three? Connect 1) your memories… and 2) your family’s/friends’ memories… to 3) the photos that trigger those memories? And capture it all in a place where your kids and grandkids can discover them?

It depends.

I know, that sounds like a cop-out, but honestly, if I were to give you one answer, it would appear self-serving. You would probably react to my answer the same way I react when I see a piece of clothing labeled “one size fits all.” Most often, one-size-fits-all doesn’t really fit anyone.

The same is true when it comes to connecting photos to your memories… and your family’s memories. Approaches vary. Different strokes for different folks, right? You should adopt an approach that works for you. But that doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel. Fortunately, there are some good options from which to choose, and you may want to employ more than one option in your approach.

For example, let’s say you enjoy scrapbooking. Whether you practice your craft with a minimal or more artsy approach, you have some basic challenges:

  • Effectively organizing your photographs.
  • Deciding which ones to print.
  • Keeping track of the details you want to include, such as the dates, locations, and participants.
  • Capturing short snippets or fun facts about the events.
  • Making time for your project.

What if you tackled some of those challenges with the aid of a digital solution? One that…

  • …lets you organize photos into various albums for potential future scrapbook topics.
  • …helps you keep track of details such as dates, locations, and participants.
  • …lets you record memories, stories, and other snippets or fun facts with each photo.
  • …lets you share albums with other family members or friends so they can collaborate with you, adding photos, memories, and fun facts of their own — think of it as a “virtual” kitchen table.

In this example, I think you can see where a good digital solution could serve as a fount of raw material for your scrapbooking passion. You can identify which albums (or topics) attract the greatest attention and which photos spark the most vivid memories. You may discover some great photos from other family members that you would have otherwise been unaware of. It will be easier to decide what you want to include in your next project.

And with each project you complete, you can look forward to the lively conversations that will occur when paging through your scrapbooks with friends and family.

Whatever your approach to capturing the magic in old family photos, I hope you find your efforts to be as rewarding as I find mine. A great way to tell stories is through photos. It’s healthy to reflect, and it can be deeply satisfying to be transported back and re-experience those emotions.

Do it as a gift to your family. But approach it together with your family.

Here’s to the memories,

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