Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photographs and Memories

Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you....

Ah, the late, great Jim Croce.  I thought these lyrics fit perfectly with what we'll be talking about today.  :D

Here's a question for you - do you think old photographs are ephemeral?  I was asking myself that question a few days back when I got this AMAZING collection of cabinet cards and portraits. 

Before we go any further, I have to give props - many, MANY thanks to Julie Thelen for this incredible gift.  I mean, I am flabbergasted by the generosity and I truly appreciate it.  What a lovely gesture to think of ME when wondering how to disperse these beauties - I am humbled and honored and I promise to make some very fun things with them!  :D

Okay, so back to the question - are old photographs ephemeral?  Technically, no.  The definition of ephemeral means "of the day", or something that wasn't meant to be kept.  These photos, on the other hand, probably cost a fortune to take and print.  These are pretty early - it appears that the majority of them are from the Aughts to the Twenties - you had to shell out some dough to get your picture taken then.  But what happens when there's no one left who knows who's in the pictures?  Very few of these photos are labeled but even if they were they're so old, there's no one alive today who'd have recollections of actual time spent with these people.

My friend Carolyn, who's an artist and a genealogist, calls these types of photos "instant ancestors".  Because they're unknown, you can make up any back story you'd like!  See this fellow here?  He became a world-famous journalist!  The girl with the bow starred in a traveling rodeo.  This couple had 13 children!  Is any of this true?  Who cares!  It's just fun to get creative.

I'm going to wax philosophical for a moment - maybe everything becomes ephemeral, given enough time.  When I'm gone, who's going to be the keeper of all of my Grammie's and great-grandparents' things?  In 75 years' time, will there be anyone alive who'll remember any of MY stories?  It gets tricky here, because I don't (and won't) have any kids of my own. Maybe someone will find my old photos at an estate sale and wonder who I am.  And that's okay.  Just be creative with the photos and try not to draw a mustache on me.  :D


  1. I am envious! I love old photos.

    I am the caretaker of my grandma's sister Lena's photos. She never married or had children. I put her picture on the project that is the cover of my book, her legacy lives on :)

  2. Kim, that's so cool! I love that you immortalized your aunt that way - with your beautiful artwork! :D

  3. I get people taking the mickey out of me all the time for my 'ephemera' collection and I haven't really considered whether photographs are ephemeral or not before. It's an interesting point. I'm a photographer and sometimes I see my photography as almost ephemeral as the images are used by the band, dancer, bride whatever for a period of time and then what? They get added to a back catalogue most of the time.
    An interesting thought - lovely to see another great collection from another collector!

  4. Thanks for your insight, Polly! It's funny how intrinsic photos are to our lives, but like you said - they're sometimes forgotten after a while. Great point of view! :D