How One Photographer Salvaged his Family’s Lost Memories
Rob Hull, a professional photographer, and author based in Coppell, TX, was sorting through his mother’s possessions after she passed away in 2005 when he discovered a treasure trove of old family photos. It was a bittersweet find for Rob and his three brothers. He describes the moment in a stirring blog post from September 2016:
“It was then that we realized that we lost far more than our mother. We lost so many stories and memories. As we uncovered boxes of slides and photographs we realized that we didn’t really know many of the stories that should accompany them. And to make matters worse, how do you divide up the family albums among four siblings?”
Rob offered to digitize the collection so that the brothers and other members of their extended family could easily retrieve the images and contribute to the stories behind them, wherever possible. But after spending several long hours in the company of a scanner, Rob decided to hand the project over to a group of digitizing specialists – namely, Scancafe!
The rest, as they say, is (family) history. You can read more about Rob’s experience with our service in his blog post. We also caught up with him a couple of weeks ago to ask him about his family photo project, the importance of documenting memories before they fade away, and more.
SC: How have you made the scanned photo collection accessible to more members of your family? Are they stored in the cloud? Or did each person get their own flash drive?
RH: For my immediate family – I have three brothers – I created flash drives with all the images to share with them. For extended family, I created some web galleries on my website where they could browse the images and download if they wanted.
The biggest challenge has been the stories or information about each photo. I use Lightroom and have updated the image’s metadata with an indication of the date the image was shot and names of the subjects and a little story about the image, where appropriate. Unfortunately, some are savvy enough or don’t have the appropriate software to read this information.
SC: Have you seen more stories or forgotten memories surface as a result of this project?
RH: Anytime you can collect these valuable images, you’ll find stories begin to surface. The problem is that as the witnesses to these life events get farther from the original witness, the stories become – in a way – blurry. And in some cases, you are left with more questions and no answers. This is definitely one project that should not be put off.
SC: Can you talk about the importance of having one or more people take the lead on the project – the way you did?
RH: Not everyone in a family is keenly interested in family history. The paradox is that the interest in your roots, the stories that make up you life, tends to bloom throughout your life and by the time you decide to take action so many of the storytellers have died. Even if it seems that there is no interest among your family members, take the time and effort to collect some of these images and stories. They will be appreciated in time.
SC: As a photographer, have you found any creative ways to work with and share these images?
RH: I know of many photographers that have used old family photos in some very creative image composites. I don’t do a lot of work with composites but have instead created wall displays with some of the family images. It’s a great way to personalize a bedroom or other personal space in a home with unique images.
SC: You talked about family slide show nights in your childhood. How can we recapture the magic of that experience in an age of image overload?
RH: In my childhood, it was the family slide show night that was so unique. Today you can do the same thing but it just isn’t as unique as it used to be. We are inundated with thousands of images. But we need to capture and save those that are more unique – something that truly tells a story. This year I’m organizing family images and creating a Family Photo Album. It displays images in chronological order beginning the year my wife and I got married and ending the year that our youngest son got married. This album not only has unique images but also included each of our Christmas Letters that we wrote each year, summarizing the family adventures from the previous year. Also included are a few special family recipes for meals that are special to us as a family.
If you don’t have Christmas letters that you’ve written over the years, then just sit down with your family and go over some of the photos and have everyone tell stories about what they remember from that year, that trip, that event.
SC: Any other thoughts on this project/experience?
RH: When you start this kind of project, remember that it is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. In fact, it’s more of a lifestyle. The task may seem monumental but getting started is half the battle.
You can read more about Rob Hull, his work and his photography workshops here: https://www.tonycorbell.com/rob-hull/.