Three Photo Collections to Learn About Ourselves and Our World

By itself, a photo is simply a snapshot of a moment, captured and frozen in time. But when it’s part of a thoughtful collection, it takes on layers that tell us something about ourselves and the world around us.

The three collections described here were all compiled in different ways. One was a patient and deeply personal exercise spread out over forty years. Another is a painstakingly curated set of recognizable images, paired with stories of how were taken. The last one is a product of social media – born on Tumblr and bred on Instagram. Regardless of how they were put together, they are all powerful visual diaries that are worth flipping through.

Forty Years, Forty Portraits

Photographer Nicholas Nixon first asked his wife and her three sisters to pose for a group photograph in the summer of 1975. When he was able to duplicate the shot the following year, he realized that he was onto something and continued the tradition over the next four decades. The women always lined up in the same order and gazed directly and unflinchingly at the camera. Together, the portraits present a moving visual narrative of both sisterhood and the passage of time. According to a NY Times article on the project: “When 36 prints were exhibited in a gallery in Granada, Spain, viewers openly wept.

View the NY Times article and images here.

Image source - via NY Times

Image source: via NY Times

Image source - via NY Times

Image source – via NY Times

The Most Influential Images of All Time

Time magazine worked with curators across the world in order to come up with this collection that was published earlier this year. ‘The most influential images of all time’ were selected based on several criteria but the common thread in all of them, the magazine said, was that they were ‘turning points in our human experience’.  The pictures span a variety of themes and subjects. Jackie O’s windswept portrait is there alongside ‘Migrant Woman’, the most enduring symbol of Depression era hardship. Grim reminders of the effects of war are interspersed with lighter images from sports, advertising and even Hollywood.

What makes the images even more interesting are the stories that accompany them – in short write-ups and audio/video clips. We learn about the who, why and how of each picture as well as the impact it had on the environment at the time. Anybody who thinks an image cannot change the world should definitely browse through this collection.

View the photos and stories here.

Lunch atop a skyscraper (1932) - an iconic pic of workers who built the Rockefeller Center

Lunch atop a skyscraper (1932) – an iconic pic of workers who built the Rockefeller Center

Everyday Life from Around the World

No matter where we live, we all entertain stereotypes about other areas on the map. We romanticize some places and view others as violent, war-torn or crime-ridden. This project allows us to step back from those notions and acknowledge that humans everywhere are motivated by the same things and that are lives are more similar than we think. A family goes shopping for food in Africa in much the same way as a family in North America. Even a city with a ‘rough’ reputation has a softer side that includes schools, children and parks.

The project – which has now taken off with contributions from freelance photographers around the world – first started in Africa and now captures everyday life in many other regions, including Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

View the article and some photos here.

Street scene. Arad, Romania, 2014.

Street scene. Arad, Romania, 2014. Image source: Ciprian Hord (@ciprianhord) via

At ScanCafe, we are happy to do what we do to digitize photos and help preserve valuable family memories. Projects like the ones described here remind us that images can both touch lives and change them too. This feature is part of an effort to highlight unusual photography or memory projects from around the globe.