Monday, April 06, 2009

Your Living Library

There are few thing s that can touch the soul more deeply than gazing at a picture of a loved one. And sometimes, those old photos—the ones crammed into a tattered cardboard box that had been sitting in the closet for years untouched—can reveal a path from your past that widens your world in ways you never anticipated.

My dad and I had often talked about “Grandma Mary’s box” and how we really needed to go through its contents and get things organized. We even looked through a few things but never really got serious about it.

Then my dad’s cancer returned.

I flew to Washington to spend some time with him –he is almost finished with chemo and doing very well—and we had an opportunity to finally tackle that box. There’s nothing like a health scare to put your priorities in place, and for us, those priorities included making sure that our future generations could find old family photos and learn the stories behind them.

I thought I knew my grandmother and her origins, but going through those photograph gave me a much better understanding of her.

I learned my great grandmother was an orphan.

I learned what my dad was like as a teenager and about his early years as an Air Force Officer.

I learned what a savvy marketer and businesswoman my grandmother was in her day.

My dad, brother and I spent several hours around that box. My dad shared stories and answered questions I’d never before thought to ask. I’m committed to making sure my own children (and one day FAR AWAY) my grandchildren know these stories and see these photographs. They are a living pictorial of those who came before us; it is up to us to continue the tradition.

Here are a few tips to help you convert that box of scattered pictures and memorabilia into a living library that loved ones will return to often:

Make it Fun: We tend to look at organizing projects as dreaded tasks, but this one can be an entertaining family event. Invite family over, order pizza and gather round the table or living room floor to get started. As you start sorting through photos, conversations will start and memories will be shared. Consider this a celebration of your ancestors and a way to honor their lives. It’s also a great way to spend a Friday night.

Create Your Own Method: So many people think they need to organize photographs chronologically, but this can be a taxing and tedious process. Instead, look at the items and create groups that make sense. With our family photos, for example, we divided the piles into my grandfather’s and grandmother’s sides of the family and worked from there. We also created a “Cousins” pile and separate piles for newspaper clippings, passports/documents and other items.

Label Photos: I joked with my dad about this because he kept writing “me” on the back of his old photos (The man has a Ph.D.!). I reminded him that the idea was for other family members to know who he was and that required using his full name. It doesn’t have to be fancy but try to be as descriptive as possible about the people shown in each photo.

Choose Quality Storage Boxes: Don’t think that you have to put everything into photo albums. If you’d prefer to go that route, that’s wonderful, but acid-free archival boxes (each labeled accordingly) work very well for this purpose. Consider using upright plastic file folders (often used for in-process scrapbook pages) to preserve larger documents and newspaper clippings.

So, please let me remind you that your photography is more than just a hobby.

It’s more than just shooting pictures at a birthday party.

You are creating your own living library, one that will touch countless people in numerous ways.
And it will continue long after you’re gone.

What story will you leave behind?

On the Hunt for Great Easter Photos

Easter Sunday comes early this year, so now’s the time to get ready to record exuberant little egg-hunters as they search nearby land for treasures nestled in the grass and hidden from view.
Here are a few ideas to help ensure you’re ready to hop on that perfect shot:

·Visualize in Advance: Are there certain traditions held each year that you’d like to capture? Plan a few shots and consider which locations would give you the best results. For example, before the kids run in an Easter egg hunt, where should you stand to make sure you capture their faces in the photograph

·Check Your Gear: Is your digital camera’s battery fully charged? Have you downloaded pictures from previous events onto your computer and re-formatted your camera card so it’s ready to go? Do you remember how to use the timer function? It only takes a few minutes to make sure your camera gear is ready, and it’s worth the time if it saves you from having your camera battery shut down in the middle of all the fun.

·Prepare Your Props and Place: If you want to shoot posed images, consider setting up one mini shooting area and include props such as an Easter basket, stuffed animal rabbits or other items you feel would properly adorn your photos in a kid-friendly way. Check how the image is framed in advance to determine if your props are properly spaced and leave enough room for your subjects.

·Capture Color: Easter is filled with colorful eggs, dresses and decorations. Consider taking a few close-up shots that center on a single colorful object or arrangement. Try to keep the image composition simple so the color is stunning.

·Get Low: Crouch down low during the egg hunt to give your photos a unique and personal perspective. Let the child’s reach be at the forefront of the image and shoot upward; the result is candid and yet very personal.

Grand Vision and Strong Community Ties Part of the Austin Center for Photography Plan

David Keenan, Founder and President of the Austin Center for Photography, has always had a knack for bringing talented groups of people together. Growing up, his networking skills and strategic thinking flourished on the basketball court. “I always loved to get teams together, and they could be three-on-three teams or city league teams-- it didn’t matter. Our win/loss record was pretty good because it was all about finding the right group of talent and bringing them together.”

Keenan, who has built a successful career in the software industry, is now turning his attention to his passion for photography. Keenan has long carried a vision for creating a grand, top-tier photographic center in Austin that features national as well as local talent—one that provides a welcoming community for those with a love of photography. Keenan turned to the Houston Center for Photography to expand his knowledge into how successful photography-centered non-profit entities operate. “Madeline Yale (Executive Director and Curator of HCP) and many other members were extremely helpful in sharing information about how they’d made HCP successful.”

The Board members of ACP envision a uniquely-Austin center designed to celebrate the breadth of talent across the country as well as in our own backyard. Keenan states that the ACP board is filled with “a great group of people, each with unique talents, and each is committed to the success of this vision. Jerry Sullivan, owner of Precision Camera & Video, is a member of the board. There are no egos involved. They just want to see ACP grow and connect with the community.”

Keenan also states that Austin is home to many highly-regarded and talented photographers and bringing them together as a resource to celebrate the craft and connect with the community is a driving force in expanding ACP. “There are so many celebrated photographers in Austin and most people don’t even realize they live here. For example, Marianne Fulton, an ex-curator of the George Eastman house and the author of Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years, calls Austin home. She is just one example of the rich resources we have here in our city.”

The ACP’s first Icons in Photography event, An Evening with Mary Ellen Mark, was a huge sold-out success. Ms. Mark was then interviewed by Texas Monthly Talks’ Evan Smith (this interview will air in early May). There are three more events planned this year, the next one being An Evening with Alec Soth on June 4, 2009. Future plans for ACP within the next three years include expansion into offering a national competition with possible grants and awards, two galleries that feature national and local artists, a variety of workshops and an integrated coffee shop with walls to be graced with quality photographic art. There is also some discussion about a possible youth outreach initiative to encourage young photographers to pursue their passion for the craft.

The Austin Center for Photography is still in its infancy but many see its potential as nothing less than stunning. The ACP welcomes volunteers to assist with its Icons in Photography Events and also offers memberships that start at as little as just $30per year. For more information, visit