Gram's Box of Photos

Box Of Photos

Restoring retouching, and retelling my stories

When I was still a very little girl, my Gram would sometimes bring out a metal book-shaped box, or an old black paper album, and show me pictures of her family. Most of the pictures were from ancient times, her youth, and none of the other people in the photos were anyone I had ever met. Along with the pictures, Gram would often bring out stored treasures—an old dress carefully wrapped in tissue, a hand-painted plate, a lace doily or initialed napkin that her Aunt Annie had made.

The pictures, mostly fading amateur snapshots, and the objects the people in the photos had once touched, maybe even made, brought the Past into the Present. My family weren’t much to talk about their lives. My dad never said anything about his own family, and my mom didn’t say much more. Gram just told me the stories by showing me pictures and saying a few words about the people in them. But for the most part, all the people in the photos remained little more than familiar strangers to me.

Nevertheless, I believed they were as real as my neighbors and classmates. Going on nothing more than the expressions on their faces, I imagined them being much the same as we were, and the choices they made, those few I knew about, inexorably leading to today, to where we lived, the people we knew, what we looked like, what values we were taught.

Photos are odd ducks. They exist in the margins between fact and fantasy. Sometimes they do a good job of revealing the true character of a subject, human or not. Other times they do an equally good job of concealing any facts. Yet always there is a kernel of truth declaring that something existed once, even if the entire image is a reflection of our imagination. The strangers in photos were or had been as real as I, and they deserved my care and respect.

And that’s how I first began to learn to use Adobe software, especially Photoshop, to bring the people and places in old family photos back to life, to start telling our stories as I imagined them—and making up a few new stories along the way.

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