Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Picture This

I am on a quest to prep hundreds of family photos, shaping each into 2-inch by 2-inch squares so that they will fit into stylized animated photo albums set to music.

The project is a chance to chronicle, as best as I can, both sides of the family: the Greenes (mom's side) and the Turners.

I've created folders within folders, in which I dump the prepped images, using a naming convention I will remember later. Like "mom_and_dad_1, mom_and_dad_2" etc. Or "sonny_1, sonny_2"

My mother has five siblings, and amongst them they have 12 children, and amongst those children are countless children. Add to that my mother's four children and all of our children. My father's family tree is similarly branched. Four siblings, 10 children, numerous offspring.

All of these humans - the Turners and the Greenes - have had their lives photographed in thousands of different occasions, in bad light and in good, cropped queerly by the photographer and framed perfectly by others. Taken digitally or by Polaroid and every type of camera in between.

Some photos are scratched and dog-eared. Others are so old and yet so pristine that you feel like you're handling the Mona Lisa when you slip them out of their frames.

There are long photos and short; rectangular and a few ovals too. There are images of cousins making goofy faces that, when I look at them, I think Hmm. That one's going to be used.

Until I come upon a picture of my sister and I flaring our nostrils and sticking out our lips. Then I think Hmmm. We'll conveniently lose that one

In the end I hope to build musical slide shows for each family, place them all onto a DVD and distribute them to the Greene/Turner masses.

Why, pray tell, would I do this you say?

There is something therapeutic about taking an inventory of family pictures. You can't help but feel reconnected. As each image comes under the Photoshop knife, you are naturally forced to give pause and reflect. You name the people in the image and you try to recall when it was taken and what was happening at the time. A family reunion. Uncle so-and-so's birthday party at Whatchamacallit Lake in 19whatever. And who the hell is that little snot-nosed grubber there in the corner? Cousin Angus? Wow, he used to have hair?

And for those photos taken before my time I am particularly intrigued by. I wonder who took the shot. What the occasion was. And who the unfamiliar people are. I want to know their names, where they are now.

Photography captures only a single moment. No sound or motion. No running monologue you can listen to. It's a flash and a frame and that's it and with my writer's mind constantly in overdrive, I find myself adding a semi-fictional narrative to embellish what little I know.

Take a photo I have that includes my parents before they were married. Probably shot in 1955 or 1956. Now, I know as much about the mid to late 50s as the movies have taught me, which means I know a lot of cliches. The jukebox in the corner spinning Chubby Checker. Coke bottles. The rolled up cuffs of jeans and everyone smoking, even the girls. No-good kids draggin' out on Route 55.

Poodle skirts and The Stroll.

My father is wearing a tuxedo, so I'm guessing it's prom. He and his friends are all lounging about in someone's living room either before or after the dance. Did he take mom? Did they jitter bug together? Did they share a beer out behind the dance hall before they went in?

What was the topic of conversation among this bunch of rowdies? Girls? Sex? I doubt it was about the weather. Were they planning a rumble with the local college kids (it was in Farmington, home of the University of Maine)?

Did they all have switch blades? Were they gonna break out into song, snapping their fingers and singing as they lurch, in perfect formation, down a side alley toward the college pukes who were tryin' to steal their chicks?

When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.

Anyway. This quest I'm on. To prep and organize decades of history in the form of hundreds of images. It's more than a labor of love.

It's more like a history lesson wrapped into a trip down memory lane rolled into a Broadway Musical Soundtrack.

Crap. I can't get West Side Story out of my head now.

1 comment:

  1. You're s funny; loved the Jets connection.

    I've decided that on days you don't post, I'll read an old one I haven't read before. I started with 2008. As for pics, my family (34 cousins on my mom's side, plus many more of theirs) have started a group on Facebook called Draeger Descendants. Many have posted their pics, and it's been wonderful to see many I have never seen before.