Who’s that?

A cousin who lives overseas recently sent me some photos that she had unearthed from her mother’s (my father’s sister) collection. 

Some people in the photos were instantly recognisable. That must be dad. That must be dad and his siblings. That must be nan when she was young. Look at her gloves – what the groover she was. 

That must be dad’s family at the seaside in Wales. I mean who visits the beach (we don’t do seasides) in Australia dressed up like that? And rides donkeys?

But who is that? And that? And this little round thing?

My father died when I was a teen. He left us years earlier. I don’t have much to do with his side of the family for multiple reasons. Even if I did, there are not many people who would know who the people in the photos are. My aunt is 80 and has Alzheimer’s. There’s only one other sibling still alive. She is significantly younger and may not know the people either. 

Then I helped my mother with a couple of entries on her blog. We uploaded some photos. Again of people I didn’t know. 

All this got me thinking. What is the point of family photos?

Are they just for those who take them, and their immediate family, to recollect or celebrate events in their lives? To act as decorations around the house?

Are they records for family history? 

Are they for future historical and cultural references?

Should we keep old photos? Should we bother keeping all our own photos? What now that we take thousands on our phones? Should we treat photos as ephemeral?

Is it better to have one photo with a record of who is in it and where it was taken and other contextual information than thousands of unknown people and places?

Now that I know who some of the people are in my mother’s photos, the photos mean more to me. But will my offspring care?



11 thoughts on “Who’s that?

  1. I ponder the same thing. That’s why I started scrapbbokibg. Not the fancy dance pants version, the recording if stories version. You start taking less photos when you realise one with recorded details can remind you of so many fond memories. I think photos were more precious when we had few than since we’ve had many! It brings to mind the scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the bride’s grandmother had a small box of memories. They were treasured because there were so few. I doubt the impact would have been the same had she taken her granddaughter to her garage jammed packed with assorted bric a beac and said “here you go sweetie, some keepsakes for your wedding day”. More is not always better nor any more treasured.

    • So true. A few momentos have greater value than lots of things which end up equating to stuff or junk. When I visit my mother I add a little to her blog so the memories can be recorded and who’s who in the photos can be recorded.

      And thanks for dropping by and commenting, Clutter.

  2. Such good questions – with my phone photos, I ask the same. If I’ve sent it to the intended recipient as a laugh, fyi etc, I delete it. I keep ones on my phone I may want to show someone ages later (fun trip!). I keep things on my computer (from phone) for blogging, but again, once blogged, shouldn’t remain on my phone.

    I have spent considerable time organising (more than once) my family’s photos, and there are some useless gaff that was in the film days… useless, blurry, unknown people. I have made albums for birthdays and christmases – partly to get photos into albums, and then me, my brothers and my grandmother share some of the COUNTLESS photos (of the SAME event) and we can all reflect. And I can caption or at least collect like with like (all birthdays, or all costumes) and it seems more coherent.

    In many ways, I like Facebook for the ability to tag people – people I met in 2008 or 2010 in conferences in France – one long period of ‘meeting’ and perhaps never again. It helps contextualise them – and give a link to their life and ‘story.

    As my Dad is of the Brisbane Flood era (79?) that part of my family is VERY nostalgic about photos having lost almost all of them. Cleaning out my grandfathers house, tho, we still were like ‘who was this again’. My uncle had a great app to take simultaneous/multiple photos of one image, and render to a single image (often better than an aged original). What he did with them, who knows?

    I often think that photos, blogs, annual school magazines, journals, digital or hard copies, all serve as an insurance to my memory which may fade. But… I don’t know many who have died, and I suspect, as more people die, the balue of these physical and visible memories may increase?

    • I need to be more ruthless in disposing of many of my shots.

      Having photos of people doesn’t necessarily help you remember them as you age. It depends on how important the person was to you – a passing acquaintance or a meaningful relationship

  3. For me photos are all the reasons you have listed but I agree it is annoying to have a photo and no one knows who it is – we have recently inherited a few after My mother in law died – we are still playing guess the rellie. I always write on the back of mine and date them (the photos that is). We often have a family screening when we get out the old projector and slides from way back in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s – my two girls howl with laughter at the fashions especially in hairstyles – grandad with long sideburns and dad with his long curly hippy hair and Afghan coat! I would never part with my photos – my brother has a wonderful blog all about tracing our family tree complete with some of our families earliest old photos where they all resemble convicts. But then my love of photos extends to a collection of old postcards too.

    • Yes, it’s great fun looking at the old styles. Mr S had long surfer hair. He’s now bald. I wish my mother would blog on her own and tell more of the family stories.

  4. After much reflection, I have realized that the reason I value my parents’ and grandparents’ photos is that I looked through the photo albums with them so many times and heard the names and stories over and over. When I think back on my own childhood, my actual memories and the stories told through photo albums are inseparable. I kept meticulous photo albums up until the digital era; since then I just save in folders by date. My young one has little interest in looking at photo albums and doesn’t know who the older relatives are (other than the ones we visit regularly). I don’t know if that will change with age, or whether the days of family-history-through-photos is over. So I am assuming that I am keep my photos for myself, and if they live beyond me, I would be surprised!

  5. I am the family historian so also the keeper of old photos, which I love. I used to document times and places for all my photo albums but have become far less methodical since the advent of cloud storage.
    My children appear to have little interest in my old family photos. Perhaps it only becomes an interest as you age? Possibly also a sign of the times – these teens take thousands of (often ephemeral) pics.
    You must uncover the mystery of the donkey ride at the seaside in Wales!

    • I am sure your children will appreciate the archives when they are older. I think I will be more rigorous in my culling of photos. So I don’t leave so many that it becomes to toss all rather than find the gems.

  6. I read years ago that the storage protocol for the National Library is to file records by function. So now I save albums of photos on Flickr under topics I think might one day be used by someone else for planning e.g. ‘Recipe Ideas’ (for all my random food pics) ‘Birthdays’ (all random family celebrations), ‘Weddings’, ‘House Design’ etc.

    I agree though it is so unlikely anyone else will even use that in the future, when we are gone. I keep thinking story annotation is so much more useful but nobody would ever have time for that given the quantity of photos we take.

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