A little home movie of my own…

I couldn’t resist putting this on the blog ~ allow a proud daddy and husband to show off  a little?   :0)


Music is Indaco by Ludovico Einaudi


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Last week I was at Keele to attend a business course and get my PhD thesis submitted to the library ~ which involves getting it printed off and nicely bound in (faux!) leather.

In all of the craziness of getting married, having a baby, and starting up my own business ~ I forgot to mention on the blog that I was actually awarded the PhD a little over a month ago!

Doing the PhD was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. The journey began about 12 years ago. I had three GCSEs and was doomed to a life of pretty dull (but nevertheless still honest) jobs. I decided that I wanted to do more with my life ~ to go to university and study anthropology ~ ultimately specialising in visual anthropology. I signed up for an Access Course which are like 2nd chances for people over 21 who either didn’t have the opportunity to go to University ~ or (like me) just didn’t try hard enough at school. The courses allow people to make amends and get a qualification so they can go to Uni.

Even as early as when I signed up for the Access Course at West Oxfordshire College, Witney ~ I knew that I wanted to progress to a PhD.

Seeing my thesis bound and lodged in the library was a rather profound experience ~ all the hard work, self~doubt, long periods of painful head-in-the-sand procrastination, and numerous highs and lows are there ~ but so is the realisation that I actually did it ~ and that is the thing that takes time to sink in properly!

There were several times when I literally had the phone in my hand to ring my supervisors to tell them that I quit. But something inside me ~ a tiny little seed ~ said that it would be alright. I think it was sheer bloody~mindedness that got me through it in the end!

One thing is for sure though ~ the experience did exactly what I thought it would do ~ it strengthened what I can give to my clients who commission biographies with my business, LifeBooth.

Oh ~ it also gave me the idea for this blog! :0)

I’ve never  been one for the 9 to 5 drag. I always wanted to do something different with my life career-wise. The way I see it is that unless you are lucky, when you apply for a job you are like a circle trying to fit into a smaller square. Some of you will fill in the gap ~ but there will be other great characteristics and skills that just won’t fit in. With LifeBooth I am making use of all of my skills and experience ~ plus the exciting promise of developing new ones whilst making a difference to people’s lives. This is the great thing about creating something for yourself ~ you’re a circle in a circle that will grow with you.

Other than the knowledge, experience, and credentials that came with my experience of doing a PhD, I think the one major lesson I found was this: no matter how hard things get (and believe me there  were times when things got so low I actually felt completely empty) ~ you always have a choice ~ to let it swallow you whole ~ or to gradually lift yourself out of the mess and take small steps forward.

Setting up in business is just as scary and unpredictable ~ especially with one as unusual and unique as my own. I still get that feeling sometimes of “what the hell am I doing?!?” ~ but that sheer bloody~mindedness is still there ~ and thanks to having already won one battle ~ I take that strength with me and know for sure that it really is possible to achieve your dreams and ambitions no matter what (or who) tries to keep you down.



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Finding Nancy Part IV…

I am trying to be a little more disciplined about the blog ~ hopefully updating it once every week or two. What with having gotten married, getting my PhD, setting up a business, and the arrival of my beautiful son Freddie; things have been a little crazy and are now starting to settle down! I’ve also been taking lots of my own family photographs recently which I will endeavour to post to Flickr some time soon!

I went back to Nancy’s albums today. Every time I look through them I feel like I get more questions than I do answers. The most burning one is if she is still alive. Quite often, when photograph albums end up on eBay, it is because the owner has died and there is no one else who wants them, or they have died intestate perhaps ~ and a house clearance has occurred. Indeed, these particular albums were picked up by the original seller in an auction house so I have a sad feeling that Nancy may have passed away.

However, whilst each viewing of her beautifully kept albums raises questions, they also provide clues about her life. Given that many of her albums connect with her travels in Europe ~ there is a sense that she was certainly had an adventurous spirit ~ especially so soon after World War II.

In fact, it appears that she had a particular affinity with Germany and Austria ~ to the point that in some albums there seems to be evidence of her actually being fluent in Germany and perhaps even working there.

For the album I was looking through today though, a trip to Austria in the summer of 1951 shows her first trip to Europe (from the information I have at least!).

Don’t forget to click on the photographs if you want to enlarge them :0)

Arrival in Salzburg...I love those old silver airplanes!


Nancy's Group

I think I have mentioned elsewhere in the blog, that Nancy did not just keep photographs of her travels in her albums ~ but also other documents too ~ including postcards that were mainly addressed to her parents.

Postcard from Haus Gertraud in der Sonne (bottom image)

A postcard from Nancy to her parents

From the bits I can make out, the postcard reads:

“Just waiting to have supper – our first big meal. In spite of train leaving Stockton 20 mins late and York 30 ,we arrived on time. I didn’t sleep at all. Plane from Northolt an hour later than schedule. Felt fine until last half hour when it got very hot, but managed to make it.

Had quite a long bus journey at speed, and then a hair raising effort into the mountains in a jeep. This happens every time one wants to go up or down. The train party won’t arrive until 9:30 pm. The jeep ride takes best part of an hour.

Party seems as though it will be predominantly female but we really haven’t got to know people yet. The beds are real German ones – no covers just a big eidendown[?]. the weather has been bad lately so we’re hoping it will pick up  […] Love Nancy”


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My Son ~ Freddie Mark Davies ~ Born 22nd September 2010 :0)


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A Bit More on Super 8 (and my business)

I am fortunate enough to have a job (my own business, LifeBooth) where I can say with my hand on my heart that there is nothing I’d rather do in life. I make biographical films (or ‘digital biographies’)about the lives of everyday people ~ films about family, for family.

One of the other things I do is ‘home movie edits’ whereby people collate all of their photographs, video, and super 8 footage to be edited into something more focused and beautiful ~ often something that creates a theme or a narrative out of the gorgeous confusion of a family’s media archive.

The film below is one such example where I was given some super 8 film footage and some photographs, and given the task of editing it together for a daughter’s 40th birthday.

This is why I love what I do. Firstly there is the enormous sense of trust people invest in you ~ something I never take for granted ~ that with these truly irreplaceable elements of their heritage ~ they are given to you to look after, and do something wonderful with. Then there is the sense ~ the privilege ~ in feeling like one is involved in some kind of ‘modern archaeology’. For the film in question, the family had not seen them since the mid-1970s ~ and then I was given full access to it all. I can only describe it as feeling like one has walked in on a slowly dissolving secret ~ just in time to save it.

Finally comes the joy ~ sitting there with clients in a preview and seeing their faces when they see the film footage for the first time in decades. In an ideal world that really would be payment enough…

Many thanks to Mr and Mrs S who have kindly given me permission to reproduce the film online.

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Super~Dooper~8 Home Movie

I’m hoping that gradually this blog will reach out into other forms of home/family media as it grows ~ and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to show a bit more of my own.

I think the camera is actually older than me!

The film below is the result of my first experiment with a new (or should I say “old”) 1970s Nizo Professional Super 8 camera that  I bought for my business (other than visual biographies I am also hoping to film the odd wedding film too ~ once I can find two willing guinea pigs!). Most people will probably recognise the kinds of images that Super 8 produces from seeing it on TV ~ or perhaps you are lucky enough to have some old Super 8 home movies yourself.

To me, Super 8 is such a beautiful medium to work with compared to digital ~ and it is actually seeing something of a revival amongst independent filmmakers who want to work with film but can’t afford to work with larger film sizes such as 35mm. In terms of processing, Super 8 is much more forgiving on the wallet although it’s still not cheap. A 3 1/2 minute roll of film will cost about £13 to buy and about £13 to develop ~ more if you want to have it digitally scanned instead of filming it off your projector screen.

As with film photography there’s no instant results and you can’t alter the image during filming so there’s a bit of guess work. In the footage below for example, there’s a fair bit that is under-exposed. Having said that, Super 8 is a very forgiving medium ~ it is, after all, synonymous with home movies and because of that aspect of visual culture the wobbly cameras and flickering lights kind of adds to the charm! Anyway I’ll keep telling myself that until I’ve learned my way around the camera a bit better! Of course it can be much more refined than that!

(The music in the movie is Bluebirds by Kensington Prairie)

I really enjoyed my first venture into Super~8 though. The whole process was fun (filming with Amy in Stanton Fitzwarren Park, and Cheltenham), full of anticipation (waiting the 2 weeks to get the film back from the developer), and joyous (feeding the film into the projector and then seeing it being beamed onto the nearest available surface I had ~ which was an old cardboard box! I changed it to a piece of paper after checking though!).

Going back to what I said about the visual culture of Super 8 ~ for me it kind of feels like a memory in a sense ~ more than any other kind of media because it is synonymous with old home movies and thus how we have experienced the medium either through TV or our own films. It is retro~cool but I think there is also something familiar and warm and fuzzy about it too. When you see a modern Super 8 film it kind of looks like it’s from the 1960s or 1970s ~ but then you see the ‘signs’ through the clothes people are wearing, or the cars in the background that shifts the context to the present.

For me, the film I made is particularly special though ~ because in each bit of footage with Amy in it, there is also the knowledge that she is carrying our child ~ and so I love that in the future he~or ~she will be able to watch the film and feel connected to a time and a place where even though they were not visible ~ they were very much present.

1973 in the Austrian/Swiss Alps

Whilst I had not yet been conceived, these photographs represent this for me ~ of my Mum and Dad on holiday in the Alps ~ probably a year or so before I was born. For me (even as a child) these images have always felt like my own memory ~ I’m sure they are why I love all things retro!

In some ways I think this emphasises the beauty of family photographs ~ especially as they (and we) age. When I look at the photographs of my grandparents (such as the one in my previous post that I colour~corrected) I too feel connected to it ~ because whilst it was a photograph taken probably 25 years or so before I was born ~ my mum, my aunts, my cousins, second cousins, and myself ~ are all now invested in that single image. It punctuates all of our existence. Perhaps it is the same for you ~ with your own family photographs?

I’m going to write another post on this in the future at some point, but if any readers would like to submit a family photograph that is of special importance to them ~ alongside a few words ~ then I would always be delighted to include it on my blog. It has been something I have been thinking of doing for a while now, but given that I can see from my “hit counter” that more people are reading the blog now I am writing regular posts ~ it would be nice to include a bit more ‘audience participation’. Alternatively, if there is something about family photography that you would like to see written about on the blog please feel free to contact me. My email address is in the “About Me” section.

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The Red Album Snaps…

I received another album today that I purchased through eBay!

New Album's Cover

There was a wonderful collection of Victorian albums up for sale too but way too expensive. It was a shame though because the person selling those albums has split them up ~ something I find kind of sad and disrespectful in a way. I think it is shame enough that  family photographs get removed from their family base as it is (however broad that base might be), but to split collections makes it worse.

Several times I have looked at what happens to split collections to see who buys them and often the person buying one will bid on the other. Given the nature of eBay ~ sometimes they win and sometimes they lose. I think perhaps sellers get greedy sometimes and figure if they split a collection they’ll get more ~ there’s been several occasions where I’ve even seen all of the photographs be split in albums and then sold separately!

German Postcard from Nancy's Album

The guy I bought Nancy’s albums from was selling them separately ~ so it was a rather expensive purchase for me ~ although to be fair to him he did give me a reduction because he liked what I was doing with them ~ AND he left the postcards in there which were the very reason why he purchased the albums in the first place!

Unfortunately one of them slipped away though ~ an album that documented her travels through Switzerland. I contacted the person who won it to see if she would sell but she declined as it was a gift for her father who was in love with the country. However she was really very helpful and gave me some of the details she found in the album such as names and places they’d been.

I find it fascinating how such personal items as family photographs can become commodities. That probably sounds a little hypocritical coming from me ~ but I have an unusual agenda in trying to find ways of getting photographs back into the family circle so it’s my hope that I won’t actually be hanging on to them for too long!

One of the reasons why such personal and intimate objects as family photographs become commodities is that they are not only about families, but can also reach a point where they actually reflect social history ~ and that is when they can be connected to people’s identities. I briefly mentioned in a previous post about the woman I interviewed during my PhD research who was completely in love with the Victorian era. Her house was like stepping back in time! I asked her if all the family photographs and albums were from her family but they weren’t ~ they were all from eBay! I love that example though ~ because whilst they have been separated from the original family they are still very much treasured, looked after, and respected.


Anyhoo, the person I bought this new album from was as helpful as she could be and answered my usual follow-up email to see if she had any extra info. Unfortunately she didn’t have anything other than the details in the album although there does seem to be a fair bit of info to hand.

This one is a bit unusual as whoever put it together didn’t put the photographs in a proper album as such, but used what seems to be a scrap book with plain thick brown paper.

Grand National (click to enlarge)

However the album still tells us that the owner was keen on tennis (there are several photographs of her playing tennis and also at Wimbledon), and horses through photos depicting her at various gymkhanas (my god I spelt that first time without the spell checker kicking in lol!) and also The Grand National ~ oh and that her surname was Gore. I don’t have a first name for her but I’m 99% certain that she is the woman in the photographs on the left here.

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