by Skip Cohen
My mother used to use the line, "Shoemaker's children need shoes," about me being in the photographic industry and never getting her enough photographs of her grandchildren.
Recently I was asked to write an article for my high school alumni newsletter about the importance of photography and capturing memories. It was published at the beginning of this month, and as I read it, I realized professional photographers are often the guiltiest of all when it comes to capturing memories for their most important clients - their own family!
I'm hoping the article below sparks some ideas to help you become a better historian of your own family. Don't miss capturing memories so that everyone can enjoy a long look in their rearview mirrors down the road!
This is what I like about photographs.
They’re proof that once, even if just for a heartbeat, everything was perfect.”
I’ve been active in the photographic industry my entire adult life, which kind of makes me a one-trick pony when it comes to career paths. But there’s that old line about if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. Well, that describes my career and the incredible experiences I’ve had over the years in photography.
When the pandemic hit, photographs (videos too) became an essential component in fighting off the frustration and depression of hunkering down. For example, “Throwback Thursday” became a weekly endeavor, not only sharing images in my blog and social media stream but often just enjoying them for me and my wife, Sheila. Every fun old photograph we’d find became an opportunity for one of us to share the backstory.
While I’ve always been an optimist and prefer to look forward rather than back, regular looks in my rearview mirror helped me stay focused on getting back to the good old days. I suppose that’s why Jodi Picoult’s quote above has always been one of my favorites.
When things are tough, whether, in life or business, we all get proactive and start making changes we should have been doing all along. So, before another day passes and you miss out on capturing special memories, here are some suggestions.
“My Journey” videos: The Senior Friendship Centers here in Sarasota has a program where for a small fee/donation, you can have a chapter of your life recorded to pass on to family members.
Everyone’s journey is a story. Through the years, you’ve accumulated a lifetime of knowledge and wisdom. Now, thanks to My Journey, a new initiative being launched at the Friendship Centers in Sarasota, you can record and preserve your story, in your words, to share.
ALL of you have aging relatives with stories to share. You also have cameras and phones that capture video. Get together with your oldest relatives and capture those stories. It couldn’t be easier – set up the camera and sit down with them and ask them to simply tell you their story.
A few months before my Dad passed away, a friend who’s a professional photographer set up her camera and sat down with Dad for stories about a little of his journey in life. I regret that I never did it myself – so, learn from my mistakes and capture those stories, while there are still family members around to share them.
Old Photographs: Everybody has old photographs, some in albums, others in shoe boxes. I get that it takes time to put them all in albums, but at the very least, clean out those drawers, along with every place else you’ve stashed prints. Please keep them in one dry place. Don’t let them take a beating, discarded, and stuffed in some obscure place in your home.
Write down who’s in those photographs. There’s nothing more frustrating than looking at an old picture and not knowing who it is, where it was taken, or when. This comes up repeatedly when people share images in one of my favorite Facebook groups, “If You Grew Up In Painesville, Ohio You Remember…” People share photos all the time with question marks.
Your Family Shots: Digital photography is a kick, but how many pictures are on your phone right now without any information, never to be printed or shared? I’ve started regularly uploading to my computer and often take advantage of special offers on Shutterfly to get them printed.
Photographs and Therapy: When my mom was fighting Alzheimer’s, one of the most fun activities was pulling out old albums. While her memories of contemporary events were fast disappearing, we could pull out old photographs, and she was non-stop energy and accuracy. She might not remember what she had for dinner, but she knew everybody in those old pictures.
Social Media: I’m a huge fan of many of the forums on Facebook. The Painesville, Ohio group I mentioned above has been one of the best experiences. Sharing old pictures of my grandparents, I connected with people who knew them both. They’ve both been gone at least forty years! Posting an old family photograph, I heard from the daughter of a woman who used to babysit for my sister and me. And sharing a 1930s shot of my grandmother at their summer cottage by the lake in Painesville Township, the woman who lives in the house today, responded.
Sharing photographs in social media, especially when they involve old memories, puts the “social” into social media. They bring us all closer, and often it’s like the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game when we learn how so many of us are connected.
Don’t Miss Memories: When was the last time you did a family portrait? Obviously, I’m a fan of professional photography, being in the industry, but it’s so important for somebody in your family to be the family historian. Whether hiring a pro or getting your family together for an updated portrait, don’t miss the opportunity to capture memories.
For the first time in history, all of us went through the same horrible experiences because of the pandemic. Coming out of the challenge, there’s a renewed sense of family. Along with that renewal come opportunities to turn intangible memories into tangible photographs and videos to cherish for the future!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.