Printing myself into history

On the one hand, I feel impelled to do it. On the other, I wonder why I bother.

For a while now, I’ve been warning people that current generations will have no pictorial history because our digital photos are all stored in computers or phones or CDs, all of which will eventually corrupt or become obsolete. If we don’t print things out, someday no one will have access to our memories. How is history preserved that way?

Print some of your photos, I tell people. Choose your favorites, or the most important, have them printed, put them in a scrapbook. LABEL THEM! Even your own memory may fail when it comes to faces and names, and your kids will never figure it out. If it matters.

That mattering is what has me second-guessing myself sometimes.

Chronicling the visit to Mom after her stroke.

Chronicling the visit to Mom after her stroke.

On my several trips to Kansas City to see my sister, I took tons of photos. When my mom got sick last January, I documented our trip to visit her. When we gathered for her 90th birthday the year before that, I snapped everything in sight.

I love looking back at the memories–but will anyone else? Will my kids care? And if they do, what happens after that? Unless I become famous, who will be interested in seeing Mom blowing out her birthday candles, or my daughter cuddling with her dog on the couch? In a hundred years, some historian might like to see what ordinary life looked like in the early 21st century, but I can’t imagine that any of my photos or albums will survive that long.

Nevertheless, I have been systematically converting some of my digital images to printed books, via sources like Mixbook and Vistaprint and even Walgreen’s when it’s a small project. I like the idea of a bound book, with pages containing photos and story. When I left my longtime home in Minnesota, I did a book containing my memories of the North Shore. When I lived in Chicago for a while, I documented the sights and surroundings in a bound volume. Just recently, I finished a 49-page book containing the photos and stories of our life during the past year.

A 90th birthday party that became a family reunion.

A 90th birthday party that became a family reunion.

When you’re a photographer the temptation is to choose only the beautiful photos: the tulips, the colored leaves, the vistas seen while traveling, the birds dining in the backyard feeders. And I did choose some of those. But as the old newspaper adage says, “names (and faces) make news.” Friends who look at the albums, my kids who will someday inherit them, aren’t going to be interested in page after page of scenery and flowers. They’ll want to see people; they’ll want to see the stories in the lives of real people they knew, see them laughing and interacting, working and playing.

So, my latest printed book leaves out the vast majority of my “artsy” photos. Unless I become a famous photographer, no one will really be interested. It does include pictures like George in the barbecue apron I made for him; George peeling apples for our Christmas pie; our musician friends performing on stages throughout the county, Christmas morning presents strewn around the living room, lawn mowing with our beagle “helping.”

I’d like to think that someday, when I’m dead and gone, my kids will get a

Photos remembering the past year of my own life.

Photos remembering the past year of my own life.

bang out of all those images and the stories that go with them. And maybe, just maybe, one or more of them will find their way into a library archives or a museum as a bit of history, my contribution to preserving the life and times of very ordinary people, doing ordinary things. That’s REAL history, not the battles and elections and political machinations we’re force-fed in school.

Until then, I can leave the albums on the coffee table for us or our guests to peruse at will, as permanent a record of our lives as anyone can manage. No matter how much technology may advance and change, it takes no special equipment to read a book or browse a photo album.

And in the end, if it never matters to anyone else, it matters to me now.


About Monica Sawyn

I'm a retired newspaper reporter/columnist, and although I still freelance, I miss the weekly column I used to write. I still "see columns" in everyday life and need a place to put them after they're written--thus, this blog. I'm Catholic, have been a Benedictine oblate since 1977, and live with my husband and our beagle in Sturgeon Bay, Wis. When I'm not writing, I'm probably reading, sewing, taking photos or walking the dog.
This entry was posted in Human behavior, Lifestyle, Memories, Photography, Traditions and customs. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Printing myself into history

  1. blb1 says:

    Monica I hear everything you say. I have few pictures from mom’s albums, younger sister has them. Our daughter was only interested in pictures here as we made a scrapbook after her brother died. None of my family back in PA gives a hoot about my pictures.

    This all reminds me of the day I learned after a friend died that all her pictures were tossed out on the street for anyone to rummage through before trash truck came. She had no heirs. She was well traveled and I wonder what else happened to her things. Guess that is why we aren’t supposed to dwell on ‘things’.

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      It’s sort of sad how we save things for posterity, and posterity doesn’t want it. It’s one thing to live in the here and now–and I do advocate that–but it’s another to have no regard at all for what came before. After all, the past is what brought us to our present. However, knowing how little others will value what I leave behind, I tend not to be a big saver. Just my photos. 😉

  2. Michelle Holdridge says:

    What a great idea! I love the book/ theme idea and think I’ll give it a shot. I love old photographs and have saved many from the dumpster from Mark’s Aunt (no children of her own) to my Mothers and Grandmothers. Black and whites are a lot of fun.

    • Monica Sawyn says:

      You’ll have SO much fun putting them together! My favorite site is Mixbook because it’s so versatile. I start a project, keep adding to it, and wait until they have a good sale. The most recent was 40 percent off.

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