Two years old sat on the beach in my new pale blue cardigan, lovingly hand-knitted by my Mum in preparation for our annual holiday to Bridlington in 1958. Bucket and spade by my side having a jolly good time grabbing a hand-full of sand and trying to work out how the boys playing next to me were able to make the sand into castles with moats and bridges. Bridlington had become somewhat of an annual pilgrimage for our family, with upwards of 8 family members sharing a self-catering flat and generally having a good old-fashioned family holiday.
I grew up with photographs and was always fascinated when the old biscuit tin full of family photographs was retrieved from the back of the cupboard to settle a dispute or to remind us of something we could not quite remember. Occasionally we would simply want to remind ourselves of who we were.
I can remember looking at the faces and costumes of my relatives, some still alive but many gone and almost forgotten. I can remember thinking that I never really knew the stories behind the photographs and would often ask Mum and Dad, Grandma and Granddad about these people who, were an integral part of me. Who was he, what did she do for a living, where are they now, when did he die?
Sadly our memories often let such information fade into the background and it is very hard to recall those stories so many years later. The tins of old photographs grew in number over the years, gradually being superseded or replaced with half-filled albums, carrier bags containing photos that scored less in the hierarchy of emotional attachment or left in their processing wallets, now containing coloured photographs and strips of negatives, stacked anonymously in a corner of a drawer.
It wasn’t until my 30’s that I began to realise that one day, my ‘treasured tins’ of photographs would most likely end up in a skip or being sold for their ‘aesthetic’ value to a collector or publishing entrepreneur who was likely to make up hilarious comments for each photo and sell them as artwork for retro greetings cards.
There is always something uncomfortable about seeing boxes of discarded photographs strewn across a table in an antique fair or jumbled up in a tatty cardboard box on second-hand market stalls. Nameless individuals posing or caught off-guard, anonymous groups of family and friends laughing, fooling around or celebrating, treasured memories captured on film and treasured by someone who has now passed away or who is unable to have their memories with them for whatever reason.
With the development of technology it is so easy now to post your digital pictures online and share and keep a record of your memories of events for all to see, archived in cyberspace for future generations to do with what they so wish. I like many other people I have online albums that can be accessed by family and friends but if I died I doubt my passwords would be bequeathed and my pictorial autobiography would probably become inaccessible.
Pictures from the past rarely have a voice, each has a story to tell of everyday life and a way of living that has long since gone. Perhaps by trying to tell these stories we can help to keep our heritage alive and help us to understand our place in the world.