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Why Do People Take Pictures?
A Box of Old Photographs
Why Take Pictures?
A photograph is merely an image captured on paper or in a file. It is ephemeral. It's only importance is the value someone puts on it emotionally or monetarily. Many photographs taken before the days of digital photography still languish in boxes which are passed to future generations to sort and preserve.
As one who has inherited several boxes of such family history, I can testify that many of these pictures have no meaning to me except that they were important once to someone I loved or my husband loved. There are unlabeled scenes from far away places where I know my dad worked. There are his coworkers I never knew and his mother's and father's ancestors. As I go through the albums my husband's parents left to him, I see buildings in Europe and groups of colleagues that were important to his dad, and beach pictures from I know not where of people whose names I do not know. I would like to know their stories, but I probably never will. Many of these pictures will be tossed because they have no meaning for us.
Why do we take so many pictures? Most people have a camera of some sort with them everywhere they go. I know I do. I use it , too. I have taken thousands of pictures since I got my digital camera, and hundreds in the days of film. Many are in boxes, waiting for someone to dispose of them after we are gone. They are ephemeral. Only what's on Facebook lives forever, or until Facebook is gone.
So why do we take all these pictures to post on social networks, paste in albums or send to online albums, or just leave in their boxes to be sorted someday? I would submit it's because those pictures are proof we have been here, a representation of ourselves we want to leave for those who have loved and and whom we love, and an aid to others in understanding who we were and who they were in relationship to us. Looking at the pictures and organizing them are also ways we try to make sense of our lives -- our personal history and our significance in the world. A close look at the pictures can reveal who loves us, whom we love, where we've been, what we've accomplished, what we've overcome, what we like to do, and where our imagination takes us.
One of our First Family Outings
Photos Document the Stories of Our Lives
In the days before digital photography, we took a lot of pictures of our children, our life together and the places we went as a family. Each child was given his own album for these pictures and his or her own copy of the photos that turned out best. We had family albums in the living room, and the children kept their personal albums in their own rooms. We discovered as time went on, the children often perused these albums. They contained not only the pictures I took, but they also contained the pictures of their birth family contributed by the social worker and family members the children were still in touch with.
Adopted children such as ours are especially anxious to piece together the story of who they were and who was important before they were brought into our lives. These albums really do document their personal histories. They see their birth parents and also pictures we took of the continuing relationship with their father's parents and their half -brother, since we met with them twice a year. There are pictures of their friends as they grew up. There are holidays and family parties. There are milestones in their lives at school, at church, in Scouts, and in achieving new skills and completing personal projects. Especially important were the trips we took. Although we took many trips, the one two counties south to Disneyland in Anaheim, was one of the first. I think this occurred when they were still foster children, but when I remember who came with us, we hadn't met them until the September before the adoption took place in December.
Photos Document Where We've Been
Proof of Connections to People and Places
When children are young, they don't remember the details of the people they meet and the places they go with their families. They may enjoy the trips and outings, but have no idea really where they were. They may remember that they went to see their grandparents in Oklahoma. I did, when I was six. I remember only a few things about that trip and I have no pictures from it. People didn't take cameras everywhere then. I remember being in a potato shed with my grandmother, and I remember getting sick in the car while we crossed a bridge when we had almost reached our destination. I also remember visiting a farm in Texas on that same trip and seeing some cows up close. That's almost the only trip we took as a family when I was growing up.
I made up my mind when I grew up that I would take pictures on trips and label them so that I would always remember these parts of my life. I wanted to do the same for my children. Most of our trips were designed to contribute to our children's education and knowledge of history and geography, so it was especially important to do this.
The first major trip we took with the children after the adoption was final was to the Washington, D.C. area. The pictures above are from that trip. The purpose was to introduce our children to another family, so we shared many of the outings with them. Among the places we saw were Gettysburg, the usual monuments, the Capitol, where we took a tour, Mount Vernon, and a living history colonial farm in Virginia. The children were seven and eleven.
Across the Country by Car
Seeing More of the USA
One summer we traveled to Colorado to see Mesa Verde National Park and also to ride the Railroad from Durango to Silverton. We also toured a mine in Ouray, and visited the Grand Canyon and the Painted Desert and the large Meteor Crater in Arizona. We took lots of pictures of the children in the places we went, as most families do when they travel with children.
We took more pictures when we lived in the state of Washington for four months. We took by far the most pictures when we crossed the country to Massachusetts by car the next year and spent two weeks seeing all the living history and historical towns and buildings we could. From Boston to Salem to Plymouth, we went everywhere we could learn something. On that trip, Sarah kept a daily journal of our daily travels, states we passed through, rivers we crossed, what crops we saw growing in the countryside, etc. It was all part of our home school curriculum. Jason got to hold the trip-tik from the Auto Club and act as navigator.
When we got home, we developed the pictures and each child got a set of the best to organize in his own album by state. They also had to fill in an outline map of our route and label everything I considered important to remember. We had taken one route to get to Massachusetts, but we took I-80 home so that we could also see all the places we had read about on the Oregon trail. (I also took pictures of landforms we saw to be used in testing later, after we'd studied them.)
Those trips were a big part of my children's lives. I did not want them to be blurred into a mental collage later on. I wanted them to be savored and reflected upon later and for my children to be able to build more meaning into them as they learned more later about each place.
Each of us attaches our own special meaning to the places we have lived and traveled to. All of those places have become part of who we are. So it's important to be able to revisit them through our pictures when we want to document or validate something we are remembering in connection with a place. As we look at the pictures, even the smells and sounds may come back to our minds as they recreate our experience for us.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
Carry on Mr. Bowditch
My son loved this book about the Father of Navigation, Nathaniel Bowditch, a brilliant mathematician who grew up in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700's. The study of this book with his class, and the ending party on the last day of school made my son very eager to make sure we put Salem on our itinerary when we visited Massachusetts. At that party, the children were all in colonial dress, ate authentic colonial food on pewter dishes at long tables, and engaged in numerous other hands-on activities. He was in the fifth grade.
The Custom House In Salem
Photos Provide Proof of Accomplishments
Proof Positive in Photographs
Have you ever overheard a discussion like this between children?
Child one: You should see the bubble I blew. It was so big it went from my chin almost to my eyes.
Child Two: You didn't do that. It wasn't really that big.
Child One: Yes I did. I've got the picture to prove it.
Pictures can prove an accomplishment. Of course back when this picture was taken, the average person couldn't doctor pictures, and they couldn't be disputed as easily. But most people aren't trying to prove things to other people. They want to remember their own accomplishments. Do you remember blowing your first big bubble? It's a small thing, like learning to whistle, but it seems very big at the time. Pictures (and now videos) can bring those magic moments back to us and allow us to relive them emotionally.
When even a young person begins to wonder who he is and what's important to him, pictures can help. He can ask himself if he played soccer because he liked it or because he wanted to be like everyone else. Did he enjoy scouting? What did he enjoy about it? How did it contribute to who he is at the moment? These questions might not be asked consciously, but the answers can come in the emotional responses to those pictures.
More Documentation of Life Events
Documentation of Relationships
Probably there is no more important part of who we are than our relationships with those we live with, play with, learn with, and love. Whether we are loved back also influences how we look at ourselves. We feel more significant if we know someone loves us. Children are more secure when they feel loved. For this reason, there are probably lots of pictures in your albums of people you love and special times you spend with them. You probably also have pictures of your pets, current and departed. All have an important place in your life. Just after I started this hub, I came across another one, I Was a Sweet Child of the Fifties, and it is another example of how photographs help document who we are in terms of the people who formed us.
Videos of some of these special gatherings are very important. I wish I had some. I've only been able to start taking them in the past two years. I would give a lot to have videos of Jason playing with his little cars and his big trucks when he was small, and when he and his sister ganged up on my husband in their play. They were quite imaginative in their play, as you will see if you follow that link. These are the kind of scenes I would like to have in video.
Those We Love and Who Love Us
Start That Album Now
When I was young, I didn't know the importance of buying photo albums with archival materials. Now, 40 years after putting my photos in sticky albums and other albums that were not acid, lignin and PVC free, I know why it's so important. I have albums of faded photos, some now so light I can hardly see them. Don't let this happen to you. With this album, your photos will be safe and still bright decades from now. It would have been worth a few more dollars to have preserved my photos.
At the End of Life
A friend on another site reminded me tonight of another reason it's important to preserve pictures in organized albums, preferable physical ones that don't need a computer. Although digital frames are nice, when we grow old, we sometimes want to linger over the pages that are related. This friend explained that when her husband's short term memory started to slip, being able to look back at the past -- the places, events, and people he did remember, was a real blessing to him.
When my own mom got the prognosis that she only had six weeks to live, she, too, poured over the old family pictures, reliving her life through them, as they brought back the images of all the people and pets she had loved who had preceded her in death. She also lived again the joy she felt when I and my brother were born and as we grew up. Perhaps there's someone you need to start making an album for that will help them toward the end of his or her life. That person could even be you in a few decades.