I have fond memories of my grandmother telling stories as we lingered around the table long after the family meal had been consumed. If she never had a story to tell, my mom would. Maybe that’s why I became a storyteller, as a still photographer and as a filmmaker.
My mother died suddenly and unexpectedly. We had no warning and then one day she was gone from our lives forever. I’d give anything to hear her voice again. Or hear her giggle. Or listen to her tell a story that she had told a hundred times. But other than some scattered photos, random letters and a few mementos, all I have left are my memories of her. But sadly they have begun to fade.
I’m a commercial photographer and videographer and have shot on assignment for magazines, non-profits and corporations all over the world. I love what I do and the value it has for my clients and their products or message and God willing, I will do that till the day I die but I wanted do something more. I wanted to create personal films (videos) about and for families and preserve their legacy in a keepsake memoir. More importantly, I wanted to capture those family stories through the eyes and voices of a family’s loved ones, while they were still here to tell them and before the memories were gone.
After my mother died I did connect with members of the family to interview them. I must tell you that it was awkward at first but somehow I knew that it was important to do. Here is a short trailer about my mom’s story told through her siblings. Her brother had died before I had made this and a sister has died since but I feel very fortunate to have captured their stories when I had the chance.
I am working on a film now about the Pitney family. The Pitneys had inhabited a property in my town for 11 generations and their story is rich in history not only about their family history but also about our nation. Sadly, the Pitney homestead was destroyed by fire this past winter after over 300 years but the family lives on. I’m so grateful that I was able to capture and preserve a part of their legacy. Please look at the trailer about the Pitney family and the fire and let me know your thoughts.
A film has the power to preserve family stories with imagery, interviews, sound and music. Imagine capturing and preserving your family’s story through the power of cinema. Imagine
what a priceless gift that would be for future generations.
A laugh, a giggle, a blurred smile, a glance, a wink, a memory – a life’s story preserved.
Facebook can be a real time suck for me if I let it, but every once in a while I find out about something that makes a mark on me in some way. Today, I saw an interesting story posted, about a photographer, Art Shay who was in his nineties. Art was reflecting upon the photographic legacy he will leave behind, when he dies.
Going through his lifetime of images, it was clear what has been his favorite subject matter – his wife. His wife, Florence, passed away 2 years ago, and as Art picked up a framed photograph of one of his favorite shots of her, he teared up a little and said, “a photograph is the biography of a moment”.
That line hit home and it got me thinking about “the moment” and how I have spent a lifetime, capturing them. That is the power a still photograph has – to capture the moment and preserve it in time.
Think about how your recall your own personal history or the era you grew up in. How do you remember things? For me, many of my memories of childhood are drawn from old photographs, when someone who had a camera, snapped a moment in time. We all remember history through images that have become the icons of their time.
Still photography is a powerful medium. It captures that one special moment in time and preserves it forever. It has the power to provoke and to move people to action. It can give you hope or fill you with despair. It can bring a tear to your eye or a smile to your face. “A photograph is the biography of the moment”.
Art Shay has an exhibit of his work: “My Florence: Photographs by Art Shay” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago till May 24, 2014.
I think one of the most gratifying areas I create videos for is in documenting family stories. This past weekend, I traveled to Michigan for a large family gathering. Because this part of my family is over 800 miles from me, I don’t get to see them as often as I like. I also know that the years go by like minutes these days and that many of my aunts, uncles and cousins are getting on in years.
On this particular trip I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and decided to set up time to get my relatives to sit down for video interviews. I wanted to archive their stories for future generations of our family.
We took an afternoon and one by one, each aunt and uncle told me stories of growing up and the hard, but happy life they had on the family farm. They talked a bit about my mother and I’m grateful for that because she is no longer here to tell her story.
At times the tales were funny and it times they were quite emotional. But I think at the end of the day we all agreed that what we had accomplished in taping their stories, was an important thing to do. Video is such a wonderful tool for documenting a family’s story because they are telling their stories in their own way, with their own voice. Creating family biographies is one of the most rewarding areas that I work in. And it’s also the most appreciated. I’d like to think in my own small way that I’m continuing a legacy for future generations to come.