A few thoughts about the family archive

This is more of a place holder than anything, as it is something I want to consider during my next module. I have been charged with sorting out my Father-in-Law’s many, many photo albums, and whittling them down to a size which might actually be appreciated as a memento for the family. He was a keen photographer in his middle years, although not particularly artistic in his composition and framing, nor technique. Having gone through about ten albums now, a definite theme is appearing. He liked taking photographs of the places he visited on holiday and also the flowers and trees around where he lived (he still does live there, but is now staying in a care home). However, looking at them from the point of view of either his children or a friend, the number of images that have any value is extremely limited. I have pulled out hundreds of photos of various holiday destinations in the UK and Europe, and am concentrating on keeping the ones with family and friends in them, and also images of the local area which might be of historic interest outside the immediate family.

It has made me think again about why we take the photographs we do, and how many of my 50,000 odd images my own family might be interested in keeping. Probably not very many, and if they are anything like me, the ones which they will want to keep are the images of loved ones. And after a couple of generations, even these will be of only passing interest as records of the facial appearance of our ancestors. Not a very happy thought.

However, just to make use of some of the discarded ones, I am keeping them and in due course will use them for collage pieces, possibly in the style of Joe Rudko, who treats old photos as the raw materials for beautiful patchwork style collages. In the same way that women in the past kept old clothes to make patchwork quilts, I will use the old photos to make something new. It seems fitting, bearing in mind all the work and expense my FIL went to in making his records.

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6 thoughts on “A few thoughts about the family archive

    1. Holly Woodward Post author

      I take your point about photographing the albums, Pete, but there are an alarming number of them and the family feels unequal to the task of trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away. There are just so many of them. Not to mention the work I am doing on my own family archive. So I’m having to be ruthless and very practical.

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  1. Anne Bryson

    I decided a while ago to go through my own family albums with the thought of culling those so that my children didn’t have to do them and like your father in laws, so many are of holidays that mean nothing to anyone other than my husband and myself. Even then, I don’t recognise half of the photographs because I failed to annotate them properly. I like your idea of recycling them though. Last summer, I visited the quilt show in Malvern and of the quilts that stood out for me was one where the quilter had used old family photographs, some printed and some embroidered and made into a fabulous quilt. A real family heirloom!

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