A couple of the things I treasure most are two manila envelopes filled with old photographs. When I was growing up, there were stacks and stacks of old photographs in the attic and the basement; more stacks could be found stored in the dining room buffet or in the television cabinet. Having moved cross-country, I only have a fraction of what was there — I think my brother and sisters have the rest. But the pictures I have — mostly old black and whites of a time long before I was born — stitch together family stories and a faded history. I recognize my parents as children or young adults — their older cousins and friends of the family are harder for me to name. The monochromatic prints freeze all of them in time, where nothing exists before or after that moment. I love that the envelopes boldly state: Handle with Care.
My favorites are all pictures of my parents’ wedding. I used to pull out their album when I was little and imagine their fairy tale day.
I love old pictures of weddings, in general — and there are several in the pile where I don’t recognize a soul. Sometimes, I do recognize a guest — maybe my mom, or an aunt — but I have no idea whose nuptials are photographed. Each picture seems to have a story begging to be told.
There are the pictures of my parents when they were young children — my mom raised in NYC and my dad in Greece. I can see in them my daughters or my nephews; some remind me of stories my mother would tell of trips to her uncle’s farm or my dad’s stories of his daily visits to the beach.
Occasionally, on the back of one, I might find a year or an inscription (as if it were offered as a post card). The ones written in Greek remain mostly a mystery to me, as I’m only able to decipher very few words. The one below was on the back of the picture above where my dad is dressed in a little sailor’s outfit. 1929: he would have been four years old in that picture.
There are others, too, where my parents are young adults — when the fashion of the times is presented in full view . . . or when cultural traditions (roasting a full lamb on a spit for Easter Sunday) are documented. It’s a bit of embedded history.
So many of the pictures are curling; one is dreadfully torn along the edges. I know I should preserve them in albums — or digitally — but there is also something about being able to pick them up, feel the texture and weight of the print in my hands. Dates and notes scrawled on the bottom or the back provide a tiny bit of context. My imagination gets to fill in the blank spots.
One of my favorite websites is “The Rescued Film Project.” They take undeveloped rolls of film and develop them, creating an archive of images. You should check them out. These are not images created by famous photographers, but rather the snapshots we all take as life unfolds before us. Some are hauntingly beautiful — some are silly shots that will make you laugh — and others are iconic time capsules. Each and every one was taken because someone thought it was important for some reason; each picture has a story to tell. I have an eerie feeling that one day I’ll be looking through their site and recognize someone I know. Stranger things have happened.