This is not about photography

Although pictures inspired me to write this, it is not about photography.

I have an old tattered album of photographs that my great-grandmother owned. Her name was Clara. The album is about three inches thick and to call it “tattered” is a gross understatement. It is shredded and barely stays together in one piece. The cover of the album is thickly padded and you tell that it once consisted of plush velvet. A dove with a rose in its beak graces the front cover. The condition of the album is so bad that it is difficult to make out the dove and the rose. A silver-plated latch provides a locking mechanism to prevent accidental opening of the album. It’s pretty cool.

The album was surely one of Clara’s prized possessions. My guess is that it dates back at least to the first half of the 1900s. Within its pages, Clara meticulously collected pictures of her family. Portraits of cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents, adorn the album. Today, most of the photographs have been removed from the album. Some ended up in the possession of my grandmother, and I ultimately have become their caretaker. Other photos ended up with my grandmother’s siblings. I’ll probably never see them. Of the photographs in my possession, most are sepia-toned silver gelatin paper prints. On the back of these photos, Clara used a pencil to scribe the names of the subjects and their relationship to her. The album also contains a handful of tintypes. If you understand the history of photography, you know that tintypes historically preceded paper prints, so these portraits are the some of my first ancestors to be photographed. Unfortunately, a pencil does not write on metal, so Clara did not label the tintypes and the names associated with these faces are lost to the past. Still, Clara did a remarkably good job of recording the names of numerous ancestors.

I often wonder what motivated my great-grandmother to do this. Of course, this was a time when photographs held a more special place than they do today. Back then, it made sense when you heard the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” And Clara wanted to preserve every word. Today, one could argue that the opposite is true: a word is worth a thousand pictures. She probably showed the album to visitors and other family members who stopped by her home in central Illinois. Maybe she was foresighted enough to do this for me and others like me. I don’t know. Personally, I think her motivation was simple: she he did it for the sake of her family. She did it because she cared. If she didn’t do it, no one else would.

So, even though I never told her when she was alive, I think I could take a lesson from my great-grandmother today. When was the last time I did something just because it wouldn’t happen if I didn’t do it? Just because I cared? Maybe there is a lesson for all of us from my great-grandmother. Interestingly, there don’t appear to be any photographs of Clara in her album. No selfies for my great-grandmother! There’s another lesson for me: make it less about me and more about others! As my first task inspired by Clara, I’ve been busy lately adding all her portraits to my family tree on Ancestry dot com. Thanks for the inspiration, Clara!

Just for a change of pace from my images of the swamps, here’s a picture of a decrepit corn crib from the Palouse area. I don’t know if my great-grandmother would like it. I suspect she would be all over her husband to get it fixed. Enjoy!

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