November 5, 2010

Looking Through Old Photos

I bet you have a bunch of old photos stored away in boxes or drawers somewhere in your home. We certainly do. In our case it is a hall closet filled with photo albums. Since a digital camera didn't replace our film cameras until 5 or 6 years ago there are a lot of memories in that space. If there were ever a fire I'm not sure if my wife would grab me or some of the pictures first. They are important reminders of the journey we have been on together.

Like many people, the pictures were taken, carefully cataloged, and stuck in a closet only to be rarely looked at again. The change to digital means these old photographs are often too much trouble to haul out, and that's too bad. There is a lot more than photographs in that closet.

Places I'd forgotten I'd been. We have been lucky to travel rather extensively in the United States, and visit several countries in Europe. I was looking over the album titles last week and realized all the places we visited that I had forgotten about. Fall foliage in upstate New York,  the pink beaches of Bermuda, a cute B&B outside Salt Lake City, the horse country of northern Florida, a castle in the lakes district of England. Looking again at the scenery brings back the sights, some of the friendly folks, and even some of the smells of those trips. It felt good to look back and remember.  

Places that were an important part of our family life. We had a few time share condos near Sarasota, Florida that were the center of family summer vacations for almost twenty years. To look at the girls from our first visit with their grandparents, to our last when they were grown up is a rather vivid reminder of how fast life passes by. The 2 Christmas vacations we spent on Maui don't seem like over 20 years ago, but they were. The pictures bring back all the details that made those trips so special. There is some sadness in the process, but overwhelming pleasure at seeing the joy on those young faces again.

How fast time goes. When were my wife and I ever that young? Why did I wear my hair in that silly, uncombed mop? Whatever happened to all the people in those photos that left our life when we moved? Is that renovation we made to the first house in Cedar Rapids still there? Old pictures allow you to relive fabulous memories. But, each page you turn in the album is like a ticking clock. It is important to remember that each moment captured in that particular photo will never be repeated. Today will never come again. Time is too valuable to not squeeze the most out of every minute. The photos make that time passage very real.

Remember when parents were younger and vital. I have written a few posts about the difficulty of watching loved ones age and decline. Our photo closet is full of visual reminders. My wife's parents have both died, so our memories of them are fixed in pictures when they were playing with our girls, or enjoying themselves at our various homes. My parents are in their mid 80's and declining. So, it is important to see them again when they were active and physically fit, joining us at the beach, our cabin in the woods, or Disneyworld. It is good to see them walking together, holding hands, in the woods of northern Arizona, without a care in the world.

Winter....Ugh! After 28 years in Arizona I could never go back to where I grew up. Pictures of me shoveling snow off the roof of our home in Iowa, trying to find my car in a snow bank in Syracuse, or shivering in cold rain in Boston are stark reminders of my dislike of cold and snowy weather. But, I lived in that climate for the first 30 years so it was important in my life. Looking at some of the pictures reminds me of why I don't live there now.

Dogs were a big part of my life. I had forgotten how much pets were part of my life until just a few years ago. I grew up with dogs in the house. During our married life we have had four dogs. At the moment we are dog-less. The photos make me wonder about that situation. There is a freedom that comes without pets to care for. But, there is a hole that only a pet full of unconditional love can fill.

If you have time this weekend can I suggest you pull out your photos and look at them. All those memories and all those important time lines in your life aren't serving any good locked away. Some of the memories will be bitter sweet and some bring tears to your eyes. Isn't that the reason you took them all those years ago?

I'm glad I looked at some of the albums again. It helped remind me the pictures were taken to be looked at, not stored and ignored.

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  1. It is truly amazing what you can find in a collection of old pictures. My dad has been taking slides - excellent quality - for the past 50 years and has accumulated about 10 shoe boxes full. Realizing that there were likely some gems in there, I asked him to collect 4-5 boxes with people pictures - basically the family growing up over the years. He brought them to Lake Tahoe for a family get together and over the course of the week, I selected and scanned more than 500 slides into my laptop - took about 12 hours! I made a CD for my siblings and now everyone can quickly look through these fun years and see how we have changed and grown. Time well spent! Were we ever really that young?? :)

  2. The task of scanning old photos into the computer is time-consuming, but well worth the effort. As you mentioned, then you can easily distribute them to family for review anytime and have them safely stored away.

    We scanned in a lot of our family in Hawaii and Florida pictures, plus our wedding photos. With the ability to restore faded photos through the software program we use, the shots from 35 years ago look every bit as vivid as today's digital pictures.

    Thanks, Dave. have a great weekend.

  3. I just found your blog and enjoyed reading the article on old photos. You are so right about how “old fashioned” non-digital photos are sort of forgotten in a closet and rarely seen. But I would offer that this is actually a great opportunity for someone with lots of traditional photographs. It is relatively easy to scan and digitize a hard copy photo on your computer. Once this is done, you have all of the easy display, access, photo sharing - and maybe most important - ability to archive and preserve images. One can even buy very affordable electronic equipment that is made specifically for the purpose of easy feed, scan, and archiving of traditional photos.

    You don’t have to copy every single photo. For example, do you really need to copy all thirty shots of your Cousin Jenny’s wedding reception in 1986? No, just go for the best one or two images that capture the memory of the event. I’ve heard it said that, “The best photographers are those who simply aren’t afraid to discard most of their photos.”

    I’ve kept all of my old photos, but digitized the best shots to make a digital archive. I’ve even loaded the digitized photos into a digital picture frame that now gives a constant scrolling “slide show” of images from significant memories and events. It is always fun to look at.

    On a completely different subject, I noticed you mentioned growing up in Iowa, living in Arizona, and “retiring” – somewhat unplanned – at age 52. I also grew up in Iowa (Cedar Falls), have lived in Florida for many years and am now 52. My company recently moved out of state and I chose not to relocate. So I too am facing a somewhat unplanned retirement opportunity but choosing to pursue consulting and other activities in a similar way that you have already done. I look forward to reading more of your blogs in the future.

  4. Craig,

    First of all welcome to the family. Anyone who has survived more than one Iowa winter qualifies. We loved Cedar Rapids. The people were among the friendliest we have ever encountered. But, the snow and cold?

    Your suggestion on digitalizing old photos mirrors Dave's comment above. It is definitely the way to go. I love your suggestion to only scan in enough photos of any one event to remember it. That makes the entire project much more feasible. There is no way I'm going to live long enough to scan in an entire closet worth of pictures!

    I wish you the very best luck as you move forward after your "unplanned" retirement. I am here to help you in any way I can.

    As a peek ahead, the post that goes up on Monday will deal with why I started blogging and what I am getting from it. In your situation, it might prove useful.

    Have a great weekend, Craig.

  5. Bob,

    Having lived my entire life in Nebraska I know about snow and cold (and heat and humidity too!).

    I too am a big fan of family pics ... in my office, around the house, on the screen saver .... one unique and neat gift I received were coasters (for your drink glass) with a picture displayed on the coaster. I have 4 at my office (one with each of the three kids, and one of my wife and me).

    Have an awesome weekend.

  6. Small world...we have a set of coasters with pictures of the grandkids, daughter and son-in-law. They are a nice touch in the living room.

    After reading this post, my wife has suggested we take some time each Sunday afternoon to go through a different photo album and decide which ones we want to digitalize. That will keep us busy well into 2012.

    Thanks for sharing, J.

  7. Hi, Bob... I too have a collection of old photos. Mostly 33mm slides. About four thousand of them. And here's something interesting. If you'd ask me to describe some specific images among the four thousand, I could do it. For among that pile of many are a few which are so memorable that they're also filed in my memory. And you know what? In many cases, it isn't the image itself which is so very memorable. Instead it's an especially important moment of my life which is important to me. In reading your post, I get the feeling that the same is true for you. Bill

  8. Your mention of being without pets brings up a topic that's much on our minds lately. As I type, I have two golden retrievers at my feet. The three-year old jogs about three miles a day with me. A golden from a rescue organization, he keeps me jogging, no matter what the weather. He looks up at me longingly and jumps to his feet if I even move in the mornings, until we leave for our jog. It would be hard to disappoint him. The other is older and has recently had two surgeries for cancer. My husband and I have been having that conversation about living as frugally as possible, and the dogs do cost a lot to be fed, doctored and pet sit when we visit children and grandchildren. When our dogs are gone, can we afford to adopt another rescue dog? Do the benefits (unconditional love, exercise, socialization with other pet owners) outweigh the costs (financial, lack of flexibility, and even the possibility of tripping over a dog that's gotten underfoot)? I can't imagine living without goldens in the house, but it's a decision we'll have to weigh.

  9. A couple of years ago, my youngest daughter and I went through all the old family photos and made copies of them. Then we made a photo album for each of her three older sisters, who are now in their 30's. Each album was different and special to the sister who received it.

    That was one of the best Christmas's I can remember. We spent a couple hours looking through the albums, laughing and remembering earlier years when they were young.

    I've been through some of my parents photos and gotten copies to frame but we too need to create digital copies of them.

  10. Good morning Bill,

    After reading about your adventures in South America I'm not surprised you have a lot of great slides. I bet many are stunning. Will you include some in your new book?

    You have pointed out the important reason for taking photos or slides in the first place: each one can trigger a memory of a place or time that expands far beyond the 4 x 6 dimensions of the photo. The entire experience comes back in vivid sights and smells and emotions. And, yes, that is what happens for me more often than not.

  11. Linda,

    That is a tough one. There comes a time when the cost and dangers (tripping) must be considered. There is also the question of what to do if you die while still owning a dog. Are the kids or other family members supposed to take the dog to live with them? How would they feel about putting your beloved pet in a kennel?

    A pet can be a blessing and fill your day with joy. It is also quite a responsibility that may be passed on to others.

    You have raised very important questions with no easy answers, Linda.

  12. Joan,

    What a thoughtful Christmas present for the older girls. That's what makes photos so valuable: the feelings and memories attached to them. I imagine that project took a lot of time, but as you watched the joy, the time invested was more than worth it.

    This post and the comments so far have pretty much put me on the path to start digitalizing more of the albums. At last count I had 37 to go.

  13. Bob,

    This is such a sweet and nostalgic post! I especially appreciate the reminder of how time goes by so make the most of this present precious moment. With our two adolescent cats, I've come to know the joy of pet love. So I understand your dilemma about being pet-less.

    We've never managed to take many photos in our life, but we did come across a few albums recently and it was great fun.

    I love your writing!

  14. The dog-no dog debate continues. If we get one, it will be the subject of many posts!

    Thanks for the complememt, Sandra.

  15. Just a comment about those pictures. When my parents died I had to go through boxes of photos and other stuff saved by my mother. Most of it had no meaning to me because I didn't know who they were. Imagine your grandchildren looking through those photos and document them.


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