July 8, 2011

Years Through the Lens

The first summer we lived here I sorted through five years worth of photos I had neglected to keep in order. As I spent a few days sorting and filing the photos, I swore I would never leave the task so long again. I would be more like my friend who, when she picked up a new batch of developed photos (three copies of each) would place them in albums and number each photo with  the corresponding negative, keep a set to send to her mother and brother in Poland, and pass out the rest to friends.

Last Sunday, I pulled a large cardboard box of photos out of the laundry room where they had been stored and ignored. Despite the 'never again' promises to myself from eight years ago, each new envelope of photos had been unceremoniously tossed in the box and become jumbled, waiting for the day when I would find the time and will to deal with them properly. That day had come and I was suddenly quite determined to get my act together and put the photos in acid free albums.  I felt the need to move on to developing a good system for organizing and printing my growing collection of digital photos before another eight years passed, but I knew I had to deal with the my pre-digital collection first.

On Sunday afternoon I sat down to try and make sense of the eight years worth of photos. Putting the photos in chronological order was the most difficult part. In the end I tracked the years by the progress of my youngest child's teeth. In Kindergarten, she had a row of tiny little baby teeth, in Grade One she had lost a few, in Grade Two the two front teeth were almost fully in, etc. Additional clues were held in the length of my eldest's hair, which grew longer and longer into his teen years, and in the number of candles on the various birthday cakes. The process was a bit like detective work and by nine o'clock each evening I would become exhausted and need to stop. Last night the job was done, and eight hundred photos were filed in two large albums, their copies (I usually ordered doubles) and any extras I chose not to include in the albums put in order in a shoe box for the kids to use for their own albums later on.

While the job of sorting through eight years of photos may seem like a tedious chore I found I was enjoying myself. I had not looked at many of the photos for years and as I did, I realized the great value of the family photo album. When I look at the albums from the past years of our lives together I am able to see those years both in individual moments and as a whole. The photos of family camping trips, visits with friends and family -several series of photos show a myriad of cousins playing on the beach - celebrations of birthdays, holidays, First Communions and Confirmations, of record snowfalls measured on the outdoor table, and of performances and recitals, as a whole give the impression of a good and happy childhood. In the pictures the kids are smiling or looking thoughtful, being silly together or laughing unconstrainedly. They appear active and interested, enthusiastic and innocent. Their dad is hugging them, talking to them, showing them something interesting or teaching them to chop wood for the campfire. There are not many of me because I was usually behind the camera.

I remember a time several years ago when family life was hard for me. I wanted to rebel against my chosen lot of wifedom and motherhood. We had recently moved away from civilization and I felt like a trickster had pulled my comfortable town life out from under me leaving me emotionally uncertain and reaching out for something to hang onto. At one dark point I took out our album of wedding photos, hoping to find some meaning there. As I pored over the pictures of a happy couple ready to take on the world, I knew I would be okay. I knew I was at this place in my life for a reason that was larger than myself and I trusted that fact to lead me through the difficult phase I was in.

Even now it is easy to become bogged down by the negative day-to-day stresses and mundane details of life. I tend to lose perspective from time to time, and there are weeks when all the demons I've ever known rise up to try and undermine any positive feelings I may have about my life and work. I don't take pictures of those times deliberately, but sometimes I will find a particular photo which will trigger a memory of some period of painful growth and difficulty. In addition to providing proof of our ability to ride the ebb and flow of family life, the photo albums exist to mark the series of experiences that have made our family what we are. They provide a chronicle which my patchy journals alone cannot supply.

The albums also show, repeatedly, the reason why we signed our youngest up for a musical theatre camp this summer, and why she is having the time of her life. From the age of two she was a ham!


  1. smiles. do you remember slides and slide projectors...taking forever to get them in order...and then someone knocks over the tray...ha...we have a box the boys like to pull out of pics of the early years...before moving to digital pics...

  2. What a wonderful post! Photos are one of the best ways to "remember". I am afraid I haven't done much better than you in staying organized. What are you going to do with all the digital photos? I think perhaps organizing them into a photo book that you then order is a good idea.

  3. Now you need to get them scanned and onto a USB stick. Mind you, if you wait a few years there'll be a new storage method. Who uses CD's nowadays, eh.
    Oh, check out the amount of calcium you are taking in. For between lime in the taps and bottles, milk, bread cakes and whatever. It has a quite nasty effect on mood for it isn't immediate but delayed a few days and can remain hidden due to that.
    I'll bet you that the place you were feeling at your lowest has a number of environmental things to knock you off perpendicular, mood wise.

  4. A truly lovely Mast photo btw.

  5. i think i am at a point in my life where this might just be a wonderful idea for me - remembering what i have forgotten

  6. Thanks for the comments everyone! It's festival time around here, so I'm busy enjoying live music and theatre with my family and friends. As for the photos, I'm going to consult with my mom, who is a professional archivist. But the photo book sounds interesting...

  7. Organizing photos can be a real chore. I finally got mine all in photo albums. But like you said, it is nice to look through them all and remember. Somehow this makes me a bit sad & I don't know why. But they do make us realize how truly blessed we are. Have fun at the festival : )


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!