My 85 year old father is a life-long genealogist and has been working hard to compile all his research on his family history into a book for publication. Recently I agreed to assist him in organizing and scanning many of the photographs he has collected for eventual inclusion in his book. Looking at old family photographs as a child first kindled my interest in photography. It is magical to gaze at a photograph of an ancestor never met. As a father I document my own family with copious photographs and I wonder at times about who might be viewing my photographs 30 or 80 or 100 years in the future. As a photographer I wonder who years from now will be looking at photographs I create for clients of weddings and other family events. In most cases the names of the people behind the camera of family photographs are forgotten, but the images can continue to resonate across generations. Perhaps I am over sentimental, but that to me is the true gift of photography.
The following photograph churned up these thoughts for me:
It is a photograph of my great-grandfather’s family taken around 1885 in Mansfield, Ohio, the city I grew up in. My grandfather, William, is the boy on the left; he was born in 1878 and died in 1970, with-in a year of my birth. On the back of the photograph is information about the photographer:
His name was Theodore. H. Campbell. According to Artists in Ohio, 1787-1900: A Biographical Dictionary
By Mary Sayre Haverstock, Jeannette Mahoney Vance as found on books.google.com, Mr. Campbell was “active from 1883 to 1889 or later in Mansfield (Richland), where he was the partner of Albert N. Camp. During the late 1890s he worked in Van Wert”, Ohio. It would take a lot more work to discover what happened to Mr. Campbell. I imagine Mr. Campbell was compensated for his work, but nonetheless I am grateful he made the photograph. I am grateful to my great-grandparents for making the time to sit for a family photograph. I am also grateful to members of the intervening generations for preserving this photograph. I will now return it along with a digital copy to safe keeping where it will wait to be enjoyed, I hope, by other descendants of my great-grandfather, perhaps another 120 years in the future.
When was the last time you made photographs of your family and are they well preserved in an album, frame or on a back-up DVD or hard drive?