Tag Archives: family photos

Everyone has a story worth telling…

Because of the nature of my work, I am sometimes asked why biography is important. People sometimes frame biography in terms of what they see as a culture of narcissism in modern society ~ “look at me with my [delete as appropriate] amazing/rubbish/(un)enviable/scary/heroic/nutty/successful/LOL  life”.

Whilst the ‘narcissist’ sticker could well be slapped onto many people, I think the word is essentially an ugly (perhaps even bitchy) one ~ especially when people use it in terms of biography. Biographies exist to communicate, inspire, educate, and entertain. They can connect with part of the core of what makes us human ~ empathy ~ and I believe that if we take time to learn something about the lives of others, our own lives and perspectives can be enriched in some way. I think this is particularly true if we are talking about your own family ~ or people with whom you share deep connections.

This is precisely what LifeBooth is about. I make auto/biographical films for amazing people who are not famous. They are amazing because they are human ~ and because they might be your mum or dad, your granny or granddad, your uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin ~ or even you.

Sometimes I think that perhaps we are relentlessly bombarded, and are too comfortable, with being fed by the shrink-wrapped slivers of celebrities familiar yet distant lives. I believe that biography shouldn’t only exist for life’s famous achievers, survivors, or those who have managed to tear off a tiny morsel of fame.

Having said that, whilst many of us might avert our eyes and reach for whichever robustly intellectual text we are reading, as the likes of Chantelle Houghton or Katie Price release their life story to edjumuckate the masses ~ they do still have their place. This is because they are obviously important to those who identify with these individuals; or those few who are able to fight the temptation to mumble “chav”, and look at the wider socio~cultural aspects of their lives, such as to why such celebrity exists ~ and see (if you really squint your eyes) that they are adding a tiny thread to the tapestry of which our whencestors will look back and try to understand our society and culture through the macroscopic lens of the individual.

Call me a big softie if you like… but I believe every life to be precious. This isn’t about comparing good-folk with evil-folk. I think the human condition is much more ambiguous than that ~ even the Darth Vader of the music world (Simon Cowell) has shown increasing signs of being nice! What I mean is that each life ~ each individual ~ from birth to whenever~upon~a~time; hacks, plods, drifts, saunters, and sails upon waves of events, experiences, and decisions that have been made by or for them. And so at any point in our lives ~ whether we are 8 or 80 ~ we have the ability to pause, recollect, and communicate. That’s our story ~ and it is beautiful not only because it is ours ~ but also because it naturally connects with all the important people around us whom we love ~ they are an intrinsic part of it.

With LifeBooth I have a big challenge ~ which is to get the word out that beautiful and meaningful biographical films are for everyone. It’s not easy, because it’s not a service that people know exists ~ so on the one hand I am faced with a big PR challenge (and the need to diversify services); but on the other hand it is about getting people to realize that actually, whether they worked on the shop floor of a factory most of their life ~ ran a million pound company ~ or have spent a large part of their life staying at home and raising their children ~ their life is amazing and worth recording for current and future generations ~ as well as the journey.

It’s all about creating a familial ‘artifact’ really ~ one that connects the past to the present and the future. This is what inspired me to set up LifeBooth. I’ve always had an interest in family photographs (which is why I based my PhD on the subject) ~ but whilst I find them so fascinating and informative, they also have their limitations.

I’ve often found myself staring at old family photographs (either my own or others) and wanting to know more about the people depicted ~ how they spoke, how they moved, their beliefs, passions, experiences, adventures, what they did for a living, what happened immediately after the photograph was taken?

Family photographs are beautiful treasures that can possess an exquisite silence ~ especially if they are of those ancestors with whom you are connected but have no actual living experience of. It is the silence of family photographs that I seek to challenge through my work ~ and that is why family photographs are so central to the films ~ because they become woven through the times, places, people, and experiences that my clients speak of ~ and somehow bring you closer to the past.

 

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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.

Wimbledon

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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Finding Nancy…

Today I begin a new project. I’ve had these albums sitting around for a while now but because of my PhD commitments I’ve not yet had a chance to do much with them. To be honest I don’t have much time right now either – but it’s kind of connected to my work…right?

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The seller could not tell me where they were from because he himself didn’t know as he bought them randomly at auction. The seller was a great guy though. He bought them because of some fabulous postcards that were in the album as he thought he could sell them on. Thankfully, on hearing what I was trying to do with the album he kept everything together, and he sold them to me for less than he could have got as he was moved by what I was trying to do.

On eBay – people will often split albums up into single photographs hoping they will get more money for them. It really bugs me when they do but I guess it’s all a case of supply and demand – and after all – who in their right minds would think of going through the whole rigmarole of getting them back to a family relative/ancestor? Still, I think it’s a shame that they get torn apart like that and whenever I can I try to get the complete collection – but I tell you it’s not always cheap!

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It’s kind of an ironic thing really when photographs that once provided intimate and meaningful representations of family life and family membership; of memory and experience, suddenly move into the public domain as objects for sale. It feels antithetical – they kind of break with the very circumstances in why they were produced. They lose their original symbolism and purpose in a way, but then again they can take on new ones. They move from very intimate representations to wider narratives that document and represent social history. And so in a sense they can become personal again – albeit in contributing to someone else’s understanding of the past.

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For example, I emailed someone once who had won an auction on eBay and asked them what they planned to do with the photographs they’d won. The woman emailed me back and told me that she was obsessed with Victorian history – her whole house was a shrine to Victoriana! The photographs, she told me, were part of this obsession. Some she would display around the house, and some she would keep in their albums – leafing through them every now and then and simply imagining and daydreaming about what the people in the photographs were like, and who they were. She felt, in a way, that she had a connection with the people in the photograph – and that is what I mean when I say these photographs of strangers can become personal – perhaps we invest a little of ourselves in them through our imaginings and daydreams, and simply becoming familiar with their faces.

I think perhaps I also develop connections with people in the albums I find. In some ways it’s hard not to. Going over albums, drinking in the faces and the smiles and the poses; times, places, clothes, events – you get to know these black and white spectres and begin to wonder what on earth happened to them – and how could it have come to the point where these photographs got separated from their homes? Behind each face though, is a story, and it is through my research that I hope some stories will emerge.

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So for these new albums I have a story is already very much present – a story of Nancy and her travels through Europe in the 1950s. The albums are beautifully kept and well organised, and the wonderful thing about it is that it is not just photographs that bless the pages but menus, telegrams, postcards, letters and ticket stubs. It really is one of the most astonishing collections I have come across and so I’m hoping we might have some luck with it!

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