Monday, 7 May 2012

Funerals and the family archive

I haven't blogged for the last couple of weeks for various reasons: the main one being that my aunt who lived in Sussex died recently, and, with my brother, I had to organise the funeral.

Among other things, I put together a eulogy (tribute? I'm not sure what the right word is) that I read out at the funeral service. It is one of those occasions where it is critical to come up with not just the right words and emotional response, but also to tell the story of someone's life and their contribution. It helps to have quite a lot of key facts and dates to hand – and there were too many gaps in my recollection. Fortunately, my bother and sister-in-law could fill in a lot, and  discussions with other relatives brought more perspective too.

Events like this always make me go back to the family archive of pictures, and other sources of memories. Something that was nice was to be able to gather a bunch of pictures to put on my iPad to bring along to the wake afterwards.

As I've mentioned previously, I'm slowly scanning some of the film archive, so it was easy just to pop some on the iPad. I found a couple more pictures that were interesting the day before the funeral, and scanned them too.

One of them is of a gathering for my grandmother's 90th birthday, nearly 30 years ago, and taken on my aunt's camera. The original is awful, and showing bad signs of the colours deteriorating. But a little work in Lightroom brought the colours and contrast back well enough, and even though it is not very sharp, it is sufficiently clear.

The picture got a lot of interest, with us trying to work out who everyone was: most were easily identifiable (even if half have now died), but one person, although we recognised her, just could not be placed. Even if it has none of the technical qualities one would expect of a current picture, and it would interest no-one outside our family, for those present at the funeral last week, it was one of the most important pictures I took along.  (I'm also the only member of the immediate family not present – I'd recently landed in Baltimore – and this only makes the picture more interesting to me).

So, that experience just reaffirms for me some things that are intuitively obvious, but worth restating:
  • Never, ever, neglect taking straightforward, standard family pictures, even when you think you should be making winning art instead: family pictures are much more important and lasting in value.
  • Annotate everything!
  • Keep records of key dates (even, or perhaps especially, if they're not accompanied by any kind of photographic recording).
Annotation is easy in the digital age. For a start, dates are recorded in the EXIF anyway. Fortunately, quite a lot of the family archive has dates written on the back of prints: for instance, the date of my Grandmother's 90th party is written on the back of the print.

In Lightroom, it is easy to add a description and keywords, which makes finding pictures so much easier than looking through albums of prints and files of negs. These descriptions persist into the metadata of the exported JPGs which I'm emailing to the family (OK - this is only useful if people know how to view basic metadata, but at least is there).

The other thing is key dates. Paper diaries still work perfectly well for this. However, I've pretty much gone over to Google Calendar for both work and personal purposes. I think it should be possible to use Google Calendar as regular journal by adding notes to the description field for any event. Easily searchable, I hope, for the foreseeable future, and from any internet-connected device; the problem is that no-one knows what Google's future holds, so the longevity of such data remains to be determined. The other thought is just how much personal info should you put out onto the intertubes? Once out there, even if it is password-protected, the family history then has to be considered searchable by anyone. As much as anything, that's why I don't do Facebook. I suppose that Facebook in the end will take over all these functions (for as long as it exists …).


I've hardly been taking pictures recently. The weather has been pants. We've had two very dry winters in a row here in Southern England, so there's a hosepipe ban on. As soon as that was introduced, naturally, the rain started. So now there are floods. The bluebells are out, but I've not had a chance to make my annual pilgrimage to the woods to photograph them. Usually, I stop a few times on the way home from work to take pictures of them, but it has been just too wet. This week, with luck, I'll get to them.

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