There are now as many photographs being taken each day
as were taken in the first 74 years of photography
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, photographs were very special, expensive and relatively rare. Ever since I came into possession of my parents and grandparents boxes of old family photographs, I have become passionate about making something of these wonderful images. I would like to share with you what I’ve realised as a result.
Looking at each photo individually, I suddenly realised for myself how special photographs used to be. Some of them taken by my grandparents are of family groups but the really special ones are the ones which are posed in studios; with props such as furniture or detailed backcloths. I realised how wonderful and enjoyable they were to look at and, if I didn’t do something with them, they would continue to be tucked away, out of sight and forgotten again.
I had shown my brother the boxes of photographs and we went through them together reminiscing about the only remaining pictures of our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. There was a particularly special photograph of our grandma and granddad with two friends sitting on a wooden bridge in the Isle of Man long before my parents were born. I have since scanned, printed an enlargement, framed it and now enjoy looking at it every day. My brother was very keen to have copies of many of the photographs. I realised then that these photographs are completely unique; these are the only copies in existence anywhere and are therefore extremely precious. If anything were to happen to these photographs the visual evidence of our family history would be lost forever.
So this realisation was when my passion for photograph restoration began.
It was only after I had scanned all the photographs and was looking through them on my computer screen that I noticed all the detail in the photographs that I had missed when looking at the small original prints. Prints that were only a couple of inches square I could now see as 19inch pictures on my computer screen. Clothing styles, hats, jewellery, shoes and many other details now became clear to see, and this I found fascinating. From these scans I was now able to make additional prints and enlargements that always give me lots of pleasure when I look at them.
Many of the original box of prints, now they are in a digital format, have been uploaded to our family tree on Ancestry.com as well as making a new style photobook for both my brother and myself so we can see these photographs very easily whenever we want. We were able to include captions and names of those people we recognised so that future generations would know at least some of the family history. Putting the photobook together was actually really enjoyable as well as being very rewarding.
I have found myself, and many others that I have met agree, that as we get older we definitely start to become very interested in older generations and nostalgia generally. I would strongly recommend that you take the opportunity, while you can, to talk with your relatives and write down information about their earlier years and any stories handed down from earlier generations. Ask them to identify the people featured in your family photographs. This is precious information that, if not recorded, will be gone forever. I certainly wish I had taken more of an interest in this information when my parents were alive. There are many photographs amongst my own that show people, whose identity is unknown.
This realisation of the importance of documenting and preserving important photographs led to my starting Photographs Forever giving me the opportunity help others to make the most of their photographs.
Every week I talk to people who greatly regret not finding out more about their family history while their older relatives were still around. I really encourage you to find out as much information while you can, as soon as you can, and document their fascinating stories. There is so much you can then pass down to your children and grandchildren. My clients often say that their children show no interest in family history but, believe me, they will when they reach a certain age!
My love for these old photographs led me from scanning to learning the skills necessary to restore and improve those photos that were damaged, faded or deficient in some way or another. I now digitally restore photographs every day and find the whole process very rewarding, particularly when I receive as much gratitude and positive feedback as I do.
These days so many photographs are taken on (often poor quality) mobile phones or with digital cameras in such large quantities, they are very rarely printed or even looked at other than in the following days and weeks of them being taken. Even when they are downloaded onto the computer they are often not looked at. This is particularly alarming when you realise that if your phone were lost or your computer were to crash that all your modern-day photographs could be completely lost.
Another area that became interesting to me was to make favourite photographs better. I noticed that I had photographs that I liked but they were spoilt by having unwanted elements included in the picture. This could be an ugly building or a telegraph pole appearing to come out of a person’s head! With modern technology I can rectify virtually all shortcomings. Unwanted people can be removed from group photographs, a picture can be created by combining the best parts of two or more photographs. The sky isn’t the limit!
I would therefore encourage you to devote a little time, time you will most likely find enjoyable, to get your photographs together. Look through them, get them scanned and think about sharing them, putting together a photobook or making enlargements to frame and put on show. Remember to consider those future generations with all your photographs old and new – they will thank you!