Photographs for Writing

Summer sailboats on Lake Macbride

Thursday was a day to organize photographs.

I copied the remaining digital photographs from a storage drive to my desktop and began reviewing and labeling dozens of envelopes of printed photographs. It was all in a day’s work on my autobiography.

The rise of popular photography in the 20th Century is endlessly fascinating, partly because my family participated in it. Changing technology and how it influenced our picture taking informs its increasing democratization. In a time of ubiquitous mobile cameras and the internet it is difficult to determine a consistent meaning of a single image. Changing technology and our adoption of it enables a narrative about our lives that is the focus of writers like me.

A large majority of printed images I handled survived without damage. So far there was only one photo album where prints on opposing pages stuck to each other and ruined them. There were a lot of photographs of other prints made to get them into my collection. That process had mixed results. When I was working on a big project, with hundreds of prints, I scanned multiple prints on one image with the idea of editing them down to individual images later. It sped up the intake process, but I’m not sure of its efficacy as I haven’t gotten to editing most of them.

Whatever I have on hand I will use. Photo sessions over the years, regardless of subject, tell a story of their own. Some of those sessions are compelling, begging further explanation. Some are not. Until I know what’s available it’s impossible to settle on which ones to use.

Photographic prints don’t always have a timestamp on them. Writing is partly about determining when things happened and how they fit a broader narrative. For example, our first family vacation was to Orlando, Florida where we stayed in a motel and visited Walt Disney World and Universal Studios. We took photographs with cameras and developed the film. It was the 25th anniversary of the Walt Disney World opening as the prints reminded me. While there was no timestamp on the prints, I could easily determine they were taken the summer of 1997 during Disney’s 15-month celebration of the occasion. The most difficult prints to date were taken after we moved back to Iowa in 1993 before we adopted digital cameras. There is an evolving discipline to dating prints and I’m getting better at it.

I’ve been successful at meeting my daily writing plan yet there will soon be a bottleneck caused by too many artifacts, previous writing, photographs, and stories to review. I get daily rushes done yet editing lags behind. On the plus side, I’m figuring out a new way to write and that’s part of the project. Consistent, daily work on varied aspects of the project is making a difference. The coronavirus pandemic created an environment for this.