In this blog post, I want to tell you about a personal blog I have which is the imaginary and factual story of my family. Inspired by re-visiting long-lost photographs, faded memories and missed opportunities, my blog tells the stories behind those photographs and where the story has been forgotten, a story written on the basis of what is probable.
The title of my blog: If Grandma had been a blogger, came from a relaxed evening sat around the table looking in an old biscuit tin and a suitcase, both full of family photographs. The pictures came in various states of preservation and mostly without any information, some had feint pencilled notes on the reverse. One picture stood out, that of my paternal grandmother who had died many, many years before I was born. I realised that the story behind the photograph had been lost. In the photograph, she was young, fresh-faced and smartly dressed. The photograph was taken in a photographic studio – apart from what we could see, no-one knew anything more. I knew that those who would have known, had also died and that such stories, tales and recollections of her life had passed with them. I wondered how different it would have been if Grandma had been able to blog and record her memories of that day. I began to record those stories on her behalf, hence the blog: If Grandma had been a blogger.
I grew up with photographs and was always fascinated when the old biscuit tin full of family photographs was retrieved from the back of the cupboard to settle a dispute or to remind us of something we could not quite remember. Occasionally we would simply want to remind ourselves of who we were.
I can remember looking at the faces and costumes of my relatives, some still alive but many gone and almost forgotten. I can remember thinking that I never really knew the stories behind the photographs and would often ask Mum and Dad, Grandma and Grandad about these people who were an integral part of me. Who was he, what did she do for a living, where are they now, when did he die?
Sadly our memories often let such information fade into the background and it is very hard to recall those stories so many years later. The tins of old photographs grew in number over the years, gradually being superseded or replaced with half-filled albums, carrier bags containing photos that scored less in the hierarchy of emotional attachment or left in their processing wallets, now containing coloured photographs and strips of negatives, stacked anonymously in a corner of a drawer.
It wasn’t until my 30’s that I began to realise that one day, my ‘treasured tins’ of photographs would most likely end up in a skip or being sold for their ‘aesthetic’ value to a collector or publishing entrepreneur who was likely to make up hilarious comments for each photo and sell them as artwork for retro greetings cards.
There is always something uncomfortable about seeing boxes of discarded photographs strewn across a table in an antique fair or jumbled up in a tatty cardboard box on second-hand market stalls. Nameless individuals posing or caught off-guard, anonymous groups of family and friends laughing, fooling around or celebrating, treasured memories captured on film and treasured by someone who has now passed away or who is unable to have their memories with them for whatever reason.
With the development of technology, it is so easy now to post our digital pictures online and share and keep a record of your memories of events for all to see, archived in cyberspace for future generations to do with what they so wish. I like many other people I have online albums that can be accessed by family and friends but if I died I doubt my passwords would be bequeathed and my pictorial autobiography would probably become inaccessible. The stories relating to those photographs are often left untold. At best they are ‘liked’ or briefly commented on and at worst, they are missed due to overbearing algorithms that control what we see.
Pictures from the past rarely have a voice, each has a story to tell of everyday life and a way of living that has long since gone. Perhaps by trying to tell these stories we can help to keep our heritage alive and help us to understand our place in the world. Knowing who we are, where we come from, what our families and friends went through to get to this stage in history helps ground us and connects us to our traditions, culture and communities. I fear that this tradition of oral history and storytelling is being lost. I believe that in many instances, individuals feel more connected to social media and the distorted view of reality it often portrays than they are in their roots and their families.
By creating If Grandma had been a blogger, as the archive of photographs and stories grow, I hope that I can leave a permanent record of my family for generations to come in the hope it helps them to know where they have come from and that they are connected to something much more substantial than a passing post on social media. Maybe you have lots of photographs that are in need of a story?