The Living, Breathing, Truth

There's life in old photos. Just ask Ken Burns.

By Kurt Rump 

There is life in old photos. Just ask Ken Burns.  

I am sure you are familiar with Ken’s works. He has been making documentary films for over forty yearsSince the Academy Award-nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made.” The Ken Burns website 

And, in my opinion, what Ken does better than anyone, is breathe life into old photos, correspondence, film footage, media reports, and the like.

 In Ken’s case, he dove into topics of national and historic interest, producing PBS broadcasts and television series such as The Civil War, Baseball, Lewis & Clark, Thomas Jefferson, The National Parks, The Roosevelts and many others.  

Along the way, the popularity of his documentaries has demonstrated, again and again, that the past matters to us. Collectively, we are all fascinated by the people, places and events that have charted our past and ushered us to the present time.  

It is human nature. You care about your past. I care about mine.  

We all have relics from our past. Much of it takes the form of old photos, correspondence, film footage, media reports, and the like. All you have to do is breathe some life into them.  

Sound familiar?  

The raw materials that Ken Burns starts with are the same that you or I would start with.  

Now, I am not suggesting that you need to assemble a team of researchers, script writers, and videographers to help you direct and produce a documentary about your familyUnless, of course, you have unlimited resources. In which case it might be easier to just call Ken. 😊  

What I am suggesting is that in the same way that the people, places and events of national historical significance are of interest to a nation the people, places and events in your family’s history will be of timeless value to your present family, and to the generations that follow.  

But there is one important distinction.  

Whereas a Ken Burns documentary has a beginning, a story unfolds, and then it ends… your family history is still being written. It is open-ended. As we like to say at TightKnit, “Tomorrow’s history is happening today.”  

So, how can this happen for you and your familyWhat’s involved in piecing together a living, breathing, historical record – past to present – that becomes a living legacy for the future?  

Sound like a project for another day? Don’t know where to begin? Where will you find the time?  

That’s the response I often getIf that is where your thoughts went, you are in good company.  

Fear not. This is easier than you think. A lot easier. In fact, it can be fun… and a little bit addictive… if you approach it the right way.  

First, I want you to keep something in mind:

There is no value in not starting!  

See what I did there? A double negativeDo you remember your English grammar? When you use two negatives in the same sentence, they cancel each other out. So, to say, “There is no value in not starting” is the same as saying, “There is value in starting!”  

That is what you need to do now. Cancel the negative thoughts. If you don’t do something, the only thing that will come from it is the future pain of regret. As the saying goes, if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone start a lament with, “If only I had…, I would be a rich man.  

Regret is no fun. It hurts. But you can steer clear of it.  

So, commit to doing something! And know that your efforts will lead to a treasure!

Next, there are four easy steps to creating a living legacy for your family: 

1. Assess your raw material. 

2. Prioritize – choose a subject to start with.  

3. Digitize (when necessary) 

4. Share! The collaboration with others is what makes it fun! 

How you tackle these steps will be unique to you. 

Me? I prefer a simple approach. Grab a handful of old family photos and leaf through themWhen I find a photo (or two, or three, or more) that I think would be of interest to all or some of my family maybe because of a special person, place, or event pictured there… I make that my priority. If the photos aren’t already digital, I’ll digitize them. Sometimes I use a scanner. Sometimes I just use my phone to take a picture of the picture. Then I can quickly arrange them in an album to be shared with my family, and the conversations… the fun… can begin.  

It takes all of five or ten minutes. If I have some more time, I’ll leaf through some more photos and share another album, or add to the one I have already created.  

You? You might prefer a more thorough approach. Perhaps you already have an archive of family photos, correspondence and more that you have been digitizing and organizing for a long time. You might take a little more time assessing your raw material and establishing priorities for what you want to share.  

Whether your approach is simple, thorough, or somewhere in between, we will all end up in the same place… with a living, breathing, truth about our familiesA lasting legacy that documents the stories behind the photosas told by the participants and those who knew themor know them, best.  

It will be a family treasure. Some chapters have been written, others are being written, and new ones will be added 

So, what are you waiting for?  

Your treasure awaits.  

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