There are thousands, millions, of words written about photographs. Words and photographs have a fairly strong marriage I’d say, though both can certainly stand independent, requiring the reader or the viewer to complete the... I’m tempted to say picture or sentence here but instead will say story.
Monday night I began the task of organizing and categorizing my father’s photographs. Photographic documentation of a life. And hefty evidence of the way standard photograph sizes have changed over the years. Sometime in the mid-70s, for instance, they stopped being square. I have 4” x 4” boxes filled with square black and whites; 3” x 3” color photos; Polaroids, etc. and many, many envelopes, filled with 3” x 5” and 4” x 6” photos. This collection is for the most part grouped into several enormous cardboard boxes of certain time periods, say snaps of his childhood, or early in his marriage to Mom, or family trips, Christmases and other family events that bring out the camera, and then hunting and fishing photos throughout.
The particular box I started going through last night was heavily populated with boat and fishing images. Except for the large cardboard envelope that held my parents’ wedding and honeymoon images, as well as newspaper clippings regarding their nuptials, clippings I've never seen before. And black & white photos of my parents ice-skating, and of my mother hunting with my father – both taken when they were in their 20s, long before we came along. Both looking very much like LL Bean ads from time gone by.
My father wanted to organize these images – along with boxes and boxes of slides in slide carousels - together with me. Possibly put them on video, or at least transfer them to CDs. It was to be our project, but it was a project we never started. So when I started it Monday, I realized that I have a certain handicap by doing this task alone. There’s so much there to learn and there’s no way to get the answers. Who is that? Where is this? What year was that? What’s the story behind this photo? Um, why are you wearing your hat like that? It’s the million words behind the photographs, it’s the stories I can't have.