David Krause: Going through decades of family photos is powerful experience
For the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about photographs, mainly because of some copyrights policies we’ve been talking about internally. But in the past week, I’ve had a few instances where I’ve thought hard about those 1,000 words each frame represents.
In the 1970s, I was the one toting the Kodak 126 Instamatic camera — that flat skinny one with obnoxious flash bulb attachment. I graduated to a 35mm when I joined the high school newspaper staff, but after failing in the darkroom I drifted to the reporting rather than the photographing side of this business.
My phone currently has 7,074 images (this after I deleted about 1,500 to kill time on the flight to see my mom and catch some college football).
During a tailgate party before the Oklahoma-Nebraska game at my old stomping grounds, I ran into a friend who I spent years with in college racing mountain bikes and making the trek to Colorado for real trails and races in the early 1990s. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 10 years and just randomly ran into each other.
Upon meeting his 16-year-old son, the young man said something like: Wait, you’re the guy in that old picture my dad has with you guys biking in Colorado? Wow, that’s cool. That picture was taken in July 1992 on the 409 trail as we were doing a scouting ride for the Fat Tire Festival races.
With that memory still fresh, a few days later back at mom’s house I poured a stout cup of coffee, and we spent a morning going through a couple of shoe boxes full of family photos. It was a collection of what she had whittled down from decades of snapshots that trickled down to her as the last surviving family member on her side of the tree. One of her pandemic projects was going through photos dating back into the 1930s.
“Hey, here’s one of your dad with his dad.”
The old black-and-white had a “JAN 1957” stamp on the edge of the white frame. I was caught a bit off-guard. Not because of the mint condition of the nearly 65-year-old photo, but because I think it’s the first photo I’ve ever seen of my grandfather, who died before his grandchildren were born. I struggled to think of any image of him I’ve ever seen; there probably was one, but I sure can’t find it in my memory.
My dad, who would have turned 80 this Friday if not for his untimely death more than 24 years ago, is in the background of the photo. He was 15 in the photo; I’m not sure how old my grandfather was in the pic, but he also died at an early age just a few years after the photo was taken.
But some of the other fun of going through those boxes was seeing photos that I took starting in the 1970s that are still around. Remembering the time and circumstances around when I took them was a lot of the fun.
A photo of my dad from 1977 when he brought home this thing called a “microwave”; the 1989 image of my dad and grandmother shooting pool at the VFW Hall in Roscommon, Michigan; a 1993 snapshot from the only round of golf I every played with my dad; and a photo from May 1997 of my parents acting silly in the parking lot of a Colorado Springs hotel the day after a cousin graduated from the Air Force Academy. It was the last time I saw my dad in person; he died of cardiac arrest less than three months later.
“With everything on people’s phones, what do you think people are going to have in the future to look at?” my mom asked as we sorted through photos from decades past.
I’m glad I married a woman who loves photographs and understands technology. Having those apps and websites to upload our phone photos through the years has been a blessing — and a way to make sure we preserve the hundreds of words and feelings they elicit.
David Krause is the editor of The Aspen Times and takes pictures of just about everything and sorts them out later.
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