Old Photographs

I recently wrote, as part of the Thirty Day Book Challenge, a post about Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the young-adult novel by Ransom Riggs. It came recommended by my students, and as I wrote in the entry for that day’s challenge (favorite Y/A novel), I really enjoyed the book. My favorite part, however, was not necessarily the narrative, although it was certainly enjoyable. The best part of the book, for me at least, were all the old photographs.

My great-grandmother's engagement photo, taken sometime in the mid-1920s.

I have always loved looking at old photos, especially of people who I don’t know, and thinking of all the possible back-stories that could have led to the moment the photograph was taken. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with four generations living under the same roof, and when I was young I would spend countless hours lost in my great-grandmother’s photo albums, creating different stories each time I leafed through those pages. There was a certain attractive combination of mystery and nostalgia (even for something I never knew) when I looked at old photographs, that exerted an almost gravitational force. I would really lose myself in my great-grandmother’s old photo albums,  being unconsciously careful not to tear the brittle, black pages, but entirely consumed by all those unknown histories. Now, as I take photos documenting my own family’s life, I often wonder if many years from now someone will be sifting through them, creating their own narratives for us, inventing our pasts, and wondering whatever became of us.

Last night, as I was laying in bed and catching up on some reading, I came across this on LibriCritic; a video created and narrated by Ransom Riggs about his passion for old photographs.



11 thoughts on “Old Photographs

  1. “I have always loved looking at old photos, especially of people who I don’t know, and thinking of all the possible back-stories that could have led to the moment the photograph was taken.”

    Oh, yeah. I love that too. I used to have an old framed photograph that I had picked up at a flea market somewhere, years ago. It was of a group of men standing on stone steps leading down from some sort of structure. I never could decide where the photograph was taken, or when. My best guess was sometime in the late 20th Century, and somewhere tropical. Panama? Philippines? I used to imagine the stories this picture had told. I’ve since lost that photo in some move or another, unfortunately.

    I also really love novels that take as its starting point a photograph. I always find these particularly fascinating, and I can hardly ever resist them. One of my favorites, and the novel that introduced me to the great Richard Powers was “Three Farmers On Their Way to a Dance” (with a photo of that event) which I picked up for its cover alone and I’m so glad I did. Been a Powers fan ever since,

  2. Your great-grandmother looks like a movie star! I used to like going through old pictures with my grandmother but most of them were taken during our civil war and were pretty sad.

  3. This reminds me of all the photos and LPs in my partner’s collection, picked up in years of estate sale book dealing. We go through boxes and boxes of the stuff, and then just put them back into storage. I like the video…the synthesis, a collage of lives…maybe there’s a project in there for me!

  4. I loved Miss Peregrine’s for the same reason! (And because it was kind of creepy.) I listened to Betsy Partridge give a talk about old photos and how she found the pictures she used for Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don’t You Grow Weary. It was a great talk. You all make me want to take up old photo gazing too.

  5. I loved ur blogg especially the video of ur photos. I have a similar hobby I have hundreds of old photos of my village .I put them altogether and created a walk back in time thro the village with 40 or so photos of one end of the village to the other.And linked them together with words.

  6. Like several of the people who commented on the post, I also love old photographs this is how I first saw the image of your Great Grandmother I was struck by the image it was obviously taken by a talented photographer, it was as someone said, like looking at a film star of the 20’s.
    After following several of the posts on your blog and found other interesting subjects I decided to contact you.
    I am a photographer and teacher in London at the University of West London so my connection with old photographs is two fold; I use them in my teaching about portraiture and also when I teach restoration techniques in Photoshop.
    I don’t know if you would be interested but I would enjoy restoring the photograph to its original glory if it is something you are interested you can let me know.

  7. Hello! My name is Sarah Brevick and I am a photography student currently studying at the Columbus College of Art and Design. I found this blog post by searching for old photographs on google. What a beautiful portrait of your grandmother!

    One of my assignments to school is to re-touch an old family photo, and I find this one beautiful and challenging. I would love to re-touch this photo for you and restore it to its original state. May I do this, and post it to my website when it’s finished? I can credit you for the use of this photograph, and email you a copy of course! (if you want) 🙂

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