by Susan McCarthy
When you began sorting through your family photos, including those you’ve inherited from parents and grandparents, you likely started organizing the images into stories. You may have thought that you were ordering the photos by year or grouping them into common events (like vacations or birthday parties), but you were also adding an element of storytelling to the collection.
You may remember time as a child sitting with a parent or grandparent as they flipped through the pages of an old family photo album, them naming people and telling little family stories along the way.
And while this can be a cherished memory, as an adult you may find yourself looking through that same album, wishing for more than a few faded penciled names along the edges or backs of the photos. Even pictures of your own childhood may have you struggling to pull details from your mind. You wish you knew just a bit more.
Which is why you want to do more than sort through photos and bring some sort of order to them. You want to include a few stories about the people, events, and places in these pictures.
And before you start worrying that you aren’t much of a storyteller, keep in mind that less is more. You already have a picture there that is doing some of the work for you. You are giving meaning to the image with a few words.
You want your kids or grandkids to be able to look at these images someday and understand who and what others will look at.
Tell a Story with Special Images
While “a picture may be worth a thousand words,” sometimes we do want to hear more of the story behind an image. And when I say “story” don’t get uptight that you must pull together a riveting tale worthy of a New York Times bestseller.
Remember, books and movies are about a character striving for something against the forces getting in their way. In most cases, our photos focus on triumphs or even glimpses of the everyday.
If someone doesn’t know the background to a photo, then that little detail can add depth to the image. What is a cute (but somewhat forgettable) photo of a little girl climbing a set of stairs shows itself as a family memory when you learn that toddler spent the family vacation climbing every staircase she found, mastering her new skill.
Do you need pictures of her climbing every set of stairs? No. That single image becomes more important because it stands out – why was this photo included in the album? A few words, “Ellie climbed all the stairs on Martha’s Vineyard,” can prompt the memory of that vacation and what may have been a detail that faded over time.
One of the reasons that you sort through photos, comparing images, is to find the picture in the dozens or hundreds of an event that captures the emotions of that moment. “Finally, together! Uncle Brandon’s Christmas in July Cookout.
You can include these simple stories in photobooks or in the description of the digital file.
Hi, I'm Susan
Emptying my parents' overpacked 800-square-foot house left me popping handfuls of peanut M&Ms and doing a WHOLE lot of comfort-crocheting. The experience of sorting through mom and dad's stuff also encouraged me to become a professional organizer...so now I can offer techniques that work much better than chocolate.