I wanted to share an article with you. It's an older article from 2009 called “Family Photographs Help Develop Child’s Positive Self-Image”. I think it’s insightful and pertinent to why my wife and I do what we do.
Obviously, as a photographer, I am biased. I believe wholeheartedly in the intrinsic value and power of photographic images. I don’t really need researchers to tell me what I can see with my own eyes, or to know that what is in my heart is true. Photographs do more than capture a moment in time. They are a powerful way of connecting us to our past and to our roots. They help strengthen relationships, stimulate memories, and provide us with an ever-changing storyboard for our lives and our world. They MOVE us in mind and spirit. This is why advertisers pay big dollars for powerful images that will inspire, compel and motivate audiences.
Here's a quote from the article:
"Until recently, people often thought of photographs as almost trivial, but actually they are an incredibly important way of connecting with our sense of self, with each other and with times gone by."1
Perhaps because modern photography is so ubiquitous, because we are bombarded with imagery all day long, we tend to lose sight of how important, meaningful and non-trivial photographs really are. For example, in just a few seconds, we can snap several images of our dessert and upload it to the web to share with potentially millions of people. The subject matter is relatively unimportant much of the time, and the process to take the photos is so easy and instantaneous. We take it all for granted. Therein lies photography’s importance and triviality all at once. We tend to not see how valuable it is because it is in our face all the time. We use it to take relatively meaningless images and fill our phones and devices up with them.
Before Leica, Kodak and Polaroid put cameras in virtually every household, photographs were a rarity. They were expensive and based upon a complicated process. Even before the invention of the camera, if you wanted an image of yourself or your family, you had to be wealthy enough to afford to commission an artist to paint your portrait. Most people did not have the wealth or access for this. Think of how meaningful a family portrait was two hundred years ago or more! Those pieces of art were sometimes larger than life, and the focus point on the wall of one's home.
The best of those portraits - those snapshots from history - adorn the walls of thousands of museums worldwide. They connect us to historical figures, events, and even the mundane and forgotten. People pay to visit those museums and stare at the images to learn something about themselves and our past. Obviously, there is intrinsic value there. The article I wanted to share, however, looks at things from a psychological standpoint, which bears some exploration.
The article mentions Geoff Beattie, a professor and the Head of School and Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester, England. He provides his insight into the importance of photographs:
"We cannot underestimate the power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging. They cement us into our networks … For children in particular, looking at photographs is part of the socialising [sic] process; learning who you are and where you fit into the family. By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them."
Speaking from my experience growing up as well as that of being a father of three, I can attest to the above statements by Professor Beattie. My children absolutely LOVE to sit on my lap and look through their photos. There are photos on my PC that they don’t have regular access to, so perhaps it is the “time with daddy” that they love, but I doubt it’s just that. They love to see their baby photos. They love to see images of mommy pregnant with them. They love to see photos from various ages.
Even without me present, they regularly go back to old photos and videos stored on their iPad and watch them over and over again. Those images remind them of memories they could not possibly have kept because they were too young at the time. Yet, because they have seen the photos or watched the videos a hundred times, it solidifies it as a real memory for them. There is an evident, continuing story that they are interested in - the story of THEM. And, because they don’t exist in isolation, but in relationship with others in the family, they are interested in the greater story of the family and how they fit in. Pictures have a way of developing and deepening this storyline.
Viewing these photographs with our children gets them thinking and asking questions. “What about Paw-Paw Keith?” “How old was he when he died?” “Where did he come from?” “When did he and Maw-maw Keith get married?” “When did you and mommy get married?” These are all organic, spontaneous questions that photographs bring out of our children. And it gives us the opportunity to connect, remind and grow our relationship.
Photographs do all of this. It’s what makes them so valuable, so marketable, so digestible, and yes, so ubiquitous. Any child can see and feel that value. Being able to view images of themselves helps them form their identity. Photography helps them grow their worldview, too.
"Photography in the home reportedly makes children feel valued and gives them a rich understanding of where they come from."
We all have a history, and most of that history is unknown to us. Photographs help fill in the gaps. They guide us to ask questions and to discover more. They provide snapshots of another time, windows to the past.
A couple of years after my grandmother died, my grandfather stayed up late one night as we went through old photographs that we discovered in her hope chest. I hadn’t seen most of them before. Pictures of them as children, of their parents and relatives, his time in the service, and years when my mom and uncle were growing up. He was delighted by our questions, and we learned a bit about the man and woman I grew up with, but really (come to find out) knew little about. That was one of the most meaningful moments I had with my grandfather. He passed away not two months later. That night taught me a lot about my family, its struggles, where we came from, the love we shared and moments seemingly forgotten.
Photographs weren't at the center of it. Love was. They just helped us see it.