Photographs as an endless Archive

I have always had an intense fascination, since a young boy, with two things; one, dogs – who can resist a loving dog, and two, photographs. My first blog spoke to my deep appreciation of dogs and this is my chance to expand upon my fascination of photos. I’m not as fascinated with the act of, or nuances of photography as I am with the final product, the photograph itself. When I read the title of Ann Cvetkovich’s narrative “Archive of Feelings” my first thought was of the many photos of the dogs that have touched my life; but also, of the many, many photographs I cherish of my children, my parents, grandparents, and family members that have gone before me. I have photos of ancestors dating back to the 1800’s when photography was in its infancy. I literally have boxes and boxes of photos that have been handed down to me over the years; each holding a very special place in my heart, each an archive of a moment in family history. As caretaker of these archives I consider it both an honor and a responsibility that I do my part to pass on the history of my family to my children. My hope is, that one day, I am approached by one of my children to know more about all the photos in my care and the stories that surround each, especially the ones of sacrifice our ancestors made to come to this country.

Cvetkovich’s work centers on trauma as an archive; but, I could just as easily replace the word “text” with “photos” when she defines “an archive of feelings”. She writes, “… an exploration of cultural texts as repositories of feelings and emotions; … practices that surround the production and reception of the text”.  Each time I hold a picture it evokes a flood of feelings and emotions, often differing from the last time I held it. I even daydream about the setting surrounding the taking of the picture; what kind of day was it, what prompted the mood of the person I’m seeing, what would it be like to travel back in time to know them at that moment, and, could they please answer so many questions I have? I’ve come to know the many photos I care for in two respects; those that I physically took and those taken by someone else. The photos I’ve taken become an instantaneous time machine; being there at that moment carries with it storehouse of innate information that enriches the story behind the photo. Those photos I find especially moving when I sit down and share the story behind them with my children; but, that’s not to take away from the enjoyment of the photos that I didn’t take.

My family was referred to as “blue collar working class” when I was growing up; looking back, I now know we were part of the “poor blue collar working class”. Having little extra money meant that having family photographs taken was a luxury. Even more so, for my ancestors, having your photo taken in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s was a big deal! It was considered a special event calling for what my family called “your best Sunday clothes”. As an archive, photographs speak to our most personal ideals; our self-worth, family values, our happiness, our sadness, and many of the things closest to our heart. Of course, these are held as subjective ideals by the viewer of the photograph; but, what of the intent of the subject in the photo. Photographs can also archive a powerful statement the subject wished to project; an act of focused communication with no dispute. Take the photographs of my aunt, no my favorite aunt, for instance; taken in the early 1920’s when she was just out of high school. The vast majority of the photos are distinct poses; poses a professional model would present, each photo with different and exquisite wardrobe of the time. Along with her beautiful apparel she sported the biggest, most beautiful smile a young woman could give the photographer. Clearly, my aunt was proud of who she was, happy to ham-it-up in front of the camera, and intent on communicating to me, and anyone viewing her photo, that she was enjoying the life she had a that moment. Her photos archive a powerful, indisputable statement; “I am happy to be me!”

Today, digital photographs are the norm; quick, easy, built into most cell phones, and without the expense of developing. Not surprisingly, most iPhone’s and android phone’s cameras far surpass older, 35mm film cameras in the quality of the photograph. Despite the impressive results from the digital cameras, I still find a good 35mm film camera nostalgic and romantic. Ever since Eastman Kodak introduced their little “box” film camera to the public in the early 1960’s, taking photographs with film was the gold standard. Their affordable, “box” camera and inexpensive “…take it to the drugstore” film development meant that every family could explore amateur photography, increasing the use of photography as an archive. Yes, I was one of those kids that saved up his allowance and purchased one of those Eastman Kodak “box” cameras and film. When the film was at the drugstore being developed impatience would get the best of me; so much so I would get the tractor out and cut grass, I hated cutting grass! You see, it was all part of the experience of taking photos for me; experience archived in each of the photos I took with that little “box” camera, experience I revisit every time I pick up one of those old photographs.

When I set out to write about archives, naturally my mind and my heart immediately turned to photographs; yes, photos of my dog, but, mostly photographs of my family. I consider photographs the gift that keeps on giving; an endless archive that is capable of evoking new feelings, new emotions, and new ideas with each presentation. Haven been given the opportunity to possess such an endless archive of my family, I am truly blessed.

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3 thoughts on “Photographs as an endless Archive”

  1. Just like you I love photography. I like both the art of taking it and the final product. My family keeps pictures of every single occasion of my childhood. My first birthday, my first day of school, my graduation etc. When my parents were young, photography was also a luxury and it was really expensive to have pictures taken. Now a days, it is so easy to take pictures with our phones that I can see why people start to forget it as an archive. But for me photography is an endless archive like you mentioned. I love printing pictures and keeping them. Photography is one of the archives that I have kept forever and appreciate it so much. I can always look back at the little “time machines”

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  2. I love that you really incorporated your family into the archive of pictures. I can relate entirely as my mom keeps so many albums filled with pictures from designated time frames. Everything is dated and organized, making it so easy to relive all the memories.

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  3. I truly love the fact that your family is the important factor being archived. The photograph is perhaps only a means to an end for you and that is definitely a blessing we overlook.

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