Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Video Biographies: A photographic memory

Even if we're not always aware of the fact, each of us has a rich resource of personal archives. Stripped away of the fancy label, personal archives are things we're all very familiar with - photographs, letters, emails, floppy discs, bulky old computers from the '80s, VHS players from the '90s, unwieldy mobile phones from the beginning of the 2000s etc. They're anything that have stood witness to our lives, and that tell tales of their own... of the worlds in which they were born. And with each new invention and each new interest, some of the old have to make way for the new. Leading often times, to a great big mess. What to keep and what to discard? What could I get a few bucks for and what's totally lived its life? And while other objects may often find their way into Neverland, photographs emerge the most resilient form of personal archives... for who could ever show memories the door?

So they remain. In trunks, under the bed, in the attic, on the computer, in albums and on the wall... passed down from one generation to the other, inherited from one to the next... the legacy continues. But wait, what about the stories imprinted on these photographs? Sure I know who the people surrounding my parents in a photograph are, but will my children? Or theirs after them? Or will they be as clueless as I am when I sometimes have the good fortune of encountering some pictures from my grandparents' days?

It's important to label photographs. Make it a point to jot down these 3 things behind every picture - dates, names of the people and the location... it helps to fill in the blanks. My mother (58) recently called to tell me that she had gone to visit her mother (86) a few days ago and saw a picture of her grandmother for the first time that day. She only knew who it was because her mother told her so. And they smiled together at the resemblance they both shared with her. But what would have happened if this photograph had never made it into their conversation last weekend - and the legend never got passed down? We would have probably stared at the photograph uncomprehendingly years later, and who knows, maybe tossed it into the 'to throw' pile because we had no clue who the woman with the enigmatic smile was.

Yes, a lot of our pictures these days are digital. That shouldn't keep us from labeling them! Better yet, be sure to back up those photographs. A sudden virus attack or a technical failure on the part of the computer could instantly make a lifetime of memories disappear. Make prints. If not of all of them, then the ones closest to your heart. And they could be your backup too.

It's easier said than done. Not that it's an impossible task to do so or that this is something earth-shattering that has just been revealed but because it takes time... and it's always easy to put it off. Which is why we've all, at some point or the other, inherited hoards of pictures of 'strangers' and felt the double-edge of that sword. Which is why we need to organize ours even better. So that the next generation will feel closer to ours. And the cycle will continue.


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