Updated: Jul 1, 2021
I went home a couple days ago: loaded the kids in the car and hit the road at 5:30 a.m. We wanted to beat the heat and get in a horseback ride with Grammy before the Western Slope sun melted us completely and ordered us indoors. I say “we,” but the horse rides are for the kids. It’s never been my thing, but I love getting them out of Lakewood and exposing them to the country life I grew up in every chance we get. And while the kids and Grammy are out soaking up the smell of manure and fresh cut hay, I find other ways to occupy my time.
This time it was photo albums, recently organized and on display for an upcoming 4th of July family gathering. I thumbed through a couple of old favorites plus a new one from my grandmother I’d never seen before. I was struck by her artistry in one photo that could only be titled, “The Original Selfie.” She had set up a large mirror in her tree-filled yard and held her first baby, my mother, plus a camera in her lap in order to capture herself as a new mom, circa 1953.
The old favorite albums took on new meaning as I looked at my family of origin experiencing phases my own young family has already passed by: babies in sun bonnets, bath times in the kitchen sink, a pregnant mama napping with her toddler. I see these images differently now that I have experienced them myself—I see the exhaustion on my mom’s face as she cares for her small crew, the pride on my dad’s face as he holds another newborn son, the silly clown my toddler brother became at the birth of his baby sister so he wouldn’t be lost in the excitement over the newbie.
It’s trite to say these albums are priceless, and yet it seems exactly the message we need in an era when photos are so common they’re almost worthless. I am convinced the thing that gives them value is to select the very best, print them off and keep them somewhere accessible.
And we do it for three simple reasons:
Photographs Connect us to the Past
I didn’t know my grandmother well. As the next-to-last of her nine grandchildren, there was rarely a moment for the two of us to connect, but when I look at those photographs of her as a young mom, I see a more complete picture than the tiny sliver I knew of her in her senior years. It’s the same with my grandfather—a young man in the 1950s, too-cool-for-school with his rolled up sleeves, always posing, casually leaned up against his truck. They were just kids, like my husband and I, trying to make the best life possible for their children.
There is power in these stories—how my grandmother built her own loom when she decided she wanted to weave blankets, how my grandpa constructed darling wooden toys for disadvantaged kids—there is power in these stories and in the photographs that complete the impression. Through them, we know what kind of people we come from—the kindness and creativity we are capable of—because we have evidence that it’s in our blood and in our bones. It makes us want to pass along the same to our own kids.
Photographs Ground Us in the Present
One of my daughter’s most treasured possessions is her baby book. She loves to flip through it together, to hear the story of her birth, to see how the loved ones in our life have grown and changed just like she has. When she sees her tiny newborn self being held tight by her daddy, it reminds her of those who love her most and of where she truly belongs.
Photographs are a Playbook for the Future
There was a series of pictures in those albums at my mom’s that caught my attention: first, my boyish brothers dressed as cowboys in leather chaps, legs swung over the fence as they climbed into a horse corral; second, a mural my grandfather had painted—a desert scene of saguaro cactus and pink colored sand and sky; finally, my grandfather standing on a patch of California ground he had recently planted with Eucalyptus trees. I looked at those images, and I could feel those textures—the smooth leather chaps, the soft crumble of desert sand—could smell the Eucalyptus as the full grown trees that I knew as a child. I am a product of this Western family and I know I will find the best of it in bits and pieces to pass along to my own kids.
Even if I don’t want to ride a horse.
Holly Freeman is a lifestyle family photographer with a passion for helping folks preserve their memories for years into the future. She designs high quality photo books that can include all your favorites images from your session and serve as a testament to your family’s love for the next generation to treasure. Learn more here.