- That’s mine!
- Can I have those?
- That’s a keeper!
My mother’s aunt Gunhild was a photographer. A professional photographer. She was a very interesting woman and a great inspiration to me, and I am sure I will find a good reason to write about her at some point. Anyway, when Aunt Gun died, her slide projector and projection screen ended up at our house. It’s the women in my family who have been carrying the photo tradition, but for some reason shooting slides came to be something my father took on.
This winter my sister and her family is selling their house and in the mode of cleaning out whatever they don’t need or want/cant bring to a smaller place. My dad’s slide collection has been sitting in their attic since we closed up our childhood home when mom and dad died. And now, it’s got to go.
So, this week, Trouble 2 being temporary back from Paris, we all gathered for a slide show marathon. Three generations of different documenting techniques: mid format black and white negatives, Instamatic colors and Iphone Youtube clips. My sister and me, four out of five sons, girlfriends, a wife, and then our two aunts.
I am not quite sure which year the slide projector joined the family, but somewhere in the neighborhood of the late seventies. So, there are all the weddings in my generation within the extended family as well as my sister’s and my closest friends. And there are the christenings of our sons. There are Christmases, vacations, our parent’s 60- and 70-year birthdays, and most of all the childhood of our sons, mom and dad’s beloved grandchildren.
Trouble 1 and Trouble 2 are very close to their cousins, my sisters sons, let’s call them 1st, 4th and 5th. They are practically brothers the five of them, and they spent oceans of time with their grandparents. Retired, they started a second career as devoted babysitters while me and my sister and our husbands were off somewhere, mostly singing in different constellations.
So, the slide show this Monday was a parade of cute little boys in cute little outfits and caps climbing trees, hiding under giant rhubarb leaves, picking flowers in the field, eating blueberries from a cup, sleeping in strollers and riding on grandpa’s back.
2PM-11PM we slided down memory lane with aahs and ooohs and wows and yayys and laughters and a couple of sighs. And of course one break for food and one for a fika - coffee or tea with home-made cardamom buns and different cookies provided by the aunts.
It felt a lot like Christmas Eve, distributing the precious gifts amongst us. And yes, we were pretty much as tired when we were done too. It was many hours, it was emotional and there were decisions to make. Even with sharing the pictures on about ten persons we couldn’t keep them all, and some didn’t feel that important. But I know that in some years we will start questioning why we didn’t. Because, after all, it’s history. Our history.
I guess, as I am the photographer in my generation, it so happened that I have in my possession two big sacks of Aunt Gun’s photographic lifework: photo albums, films, glass slides and boxes of random pictures. Well, they seem random now, but of course they weren’t at the time. It’s people immortalized by parts of seconds of light, although many of them already long forgotten.
There are especially three beautiful albums that I keep holding. Brown or green patterned leather. Brass buckles. Albums so thick they fit perfectly in my fully arched hand. Heavy. The sacks have been sitting in one of my outhouse storages, the content smells from that, and it’s a smell I find really hard to endure. But what to find between those leather covers is my genes. My history. My story.
My aunt I-M is pointing at those beautiful studio photos from the late eighteen hundreds giving me some names. There are five little girls, my grandmother and her sisters. There is their austere father. There are their relatives. There are villages. Although I-M just turned 85, she only knows a fraction of these people.
When we are not emotionally connected to people or things they loose their value to us. A Christmas ornament that was very important to my mother because she remembered it as her grandmother’s doesn’t ring in me since her grandmother isn’t even a name to me. So, here I am, my lap full of mostly unknown people from whom I may or may not descend. And it smells. So, what to do with it?
I just can’t throw it away. I am thinking I will have a date with I-M and write down all the names she knows and how we are related. And I found an empty spot in my bookshelf right under my own life, my every day journals back since I was 13 years old. And hopefully the outhouse storage smell will fade away eventually.
It’s 11PM Monday evening. My sister, our sons and aunts are calling it a day. Depicted memories, fairly recent and easy to hold on to, have found new homes. Trouble 2 is the next generation photographer (as my sister and I are lacking daughters), and he is now the trustee of Aunt Gun’s (to Trouble 2, of course grandpa’s) slide projector and screen. It’s been a good day.
My sons are still very young, only on the verge to a grown up life. I am surprised at their interest of the stories and light reflections going back beyond their grandmother. It might be connected to the fact that they grew up in her childhood home. They picked the summer flowers at the same fields. And it might be that they have a storytelling mother.
Those leather albums that just found a new home in my bookshelf won’t mean anything to them if I am not filling them with life, as much as I can. It breaks my heart that people, perfectly preserved in an image 100-150 years old, are lost and gone forever in man’s mind. Trouble 1, Trouble 2 and their cousins are grown up with crashing hard drives. Loosing photographic memories is a part of normal every day life in their generation. And even those not lost, we have no idea for how long they will last. Those memories. So, maybe three heavy, smelling, beautiful leather albums from the 19th Century will be yet more valuable then I can even picture. As we are sliding down memory lane.