Everyone knows the saying about how a picture is worth 1,000 words…

But look in your own family photo collection and you’ll find plenty of photographs with little to say. Stiff, uncomfortable looking ancestors whose names have been lost to time. We archivists have a term for these mystery pictures: Orphans.

I teach a variety of workshops, and almost all of them are about archiving. No surprise, I’m sure. But my favorite class isn’t one of the archiving ones. It’s the class where I teach folks how to record the stories behind their photographs — before they disappear.

Here’s an example…

The photo below is of me and my friends. Is it really worth 1,000 words to you? I sincerely doubt it.

Yet I could write tens of thousands of words about this photo and why we’re having such a great time:

1. We’re enjoying the deliciously funky groovy sound of VO5.

2. We scored a table in this very crowded tavern, even though we didn’t have dinner here.

3. We still got to pig out (see #2). Witness the plate scraped clean. For a short time, it held guacamole, chips, salsa, and hot pickled vegetables.

The woman on my left is the reason why I’m laughing so hard in this photograph. We don’t get to see each other often, so we usually
end up exchanging our most dramatic stories of the past year. Debbie is a great story teller who keeps building and building until I practically have to beg her to stop. See her finger on the table toward the bottom right corner? Looking at this photo now, I can practically hear the dull thud as she pounds the table to emphasize each point.

And that’s just for starters, folks. I only have space here to barely begin to write about the woman on my right. We’ve known each other for almost twenty years. We’ve lived together, traveled together, gone to school together. Lori attended the births of both my kids and acted as my doula each time. There’s simply not enough space to go into all of what Lori means to me on this blog. But I plan to write those kinds of details down, because I want my kids to know their Auntie Lori at least partially through my eyes. Fortunately, I have the perfect opportunity coming up in January to do just that.

The simple writing technique for capturing memories before they diappear was created by Denis LeDoux. His Photo Scribe book is available from Amazon.com, which has a description plus (rave) reviews.

If you have plans to spend time with loved ones in the next few weeks, why not invite them to share some of the stories behind their photographs? And in the good cause of preventing future orphans, be sure to jot down names if the photos aren’t already labeled. Your great-great granddaughter will be glad you did.

Photo Credit: The Ever Fabulous Olive.
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