Teamwork makes the dream work

Thanks to modern technology, we can bring new life to old photos.

Photo Before

A client brought me this photo of her mother and her mother’s basketball team. Based on the date on the basketball, the image was 87 years old, and it was showing its age: curling, creases, tears, abrasion, discoloring. Fortunately, the mother’s face was unmarred. The client wanted to share copies of this photo with her siblings at the summer family reunion.

I scanned it in, and returned the original image as is. That’s one of the luxuries of scanning: The original in most cases can be retained if desired.

Then I ran through a rudimentary photo editing software, of which there are dozens on the market. Free photo editing software will only get you so far; you can crop and enhance the color but usually that’s about it. If you need to do extreme editing (as in this case), you’ll need to spring for some software or enlist a photo organizer in your endeavors.

I cloned in some corners, softened some of the abrasions, knitted together the rips and, per the client’s specifications, retained the sepia tones (an even more extreme makeover would colorize the image). Here’s the result:

Photo After

It’s by no means perfect, but it’s better. An observer can see smiles first now instead of photo damage. Imagine it on display at the family reunion, affixed in an album or framed to enjoy. Oh, the conversations it will inspire!

The best part is I sent the electronic copy straight to the local drugstore where the client was able to pick up prints for herself and her siblings. Those prints are now 2019 versions that will last another 87 years.

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Connecting the dots

“You know, we can tell these stories. We can share these stories. We can connect some of the dots, but I don’t know how else to ask people to see our humanity as Indigenous people other than through storytelling.”

I heard this quote this week from Ryan McMahon in a National Public Radio story about his podcast that illuminates the opioid struggles of Thunder Bay’s Indigenous, or First Nations, population.

It caught my ear because he used the word “storytelling” to describe connecting the dots. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do when we tell stories, especially stories about our lives?

Twists and Turns

By conjuring up a story about our first love or the failure of a marriage or the struggles of parenting or how much we admire a hero, we are forced to create a beginning, a middle and an end to the story. This is true whether the story is off the cuff or carefully prepared, whether it’s oral or written. We need to connect the twists and turns of the story in a logical way. That process of creation informs the listener or reader but it also informs the storyteller.

I’m working on a story about my grandmother who died last month at age 104, and I’m reminded how difficult it is to define the “dash.” The dash comes from a poem by Linda Ellis who quite beautifully describes the dash between one’s date of birth and date of death as what matters most: “What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.”

Storytelling, not obituary facts, is how one best describes a life. It’s hard work to tell a good and complete and truthful story, but that hard work is worth it for the recipients of the story but especially for the storyteller.

Tell your stories.

 

How to display photos at a funeral

There is no wrong way to display photos at a funeral.

If you’ve landed on this page looking for ideas, be assured: Whatever you do to evoke memories of your loved one when he or she was living will be appreciated.

Begin with a view towards celebrating your loved one’s life. Think about how you might display photos at a graduation or wedding, and then translate those ideas to the funeral.

My 104-year-old grandmother died recently, and here’s how our family handled it. Grandma had four children, so each family created a board of photos they’d collected from their own archives. We used poster board, bulletin board and tri-fold displays. These were displayed on easels. Everyone brought a few framed photos, which were set on a table.

grandmas photo display

Some of the photos were labeled, some were not. In general, I’d lean towards more labels rather than less if you can. Even just a “circa 1980” helps the viewer place the image.

It’s also nice if you can display photos that show the person’s whole life rather than just the past few years.

And in general, less is more. A few carefully edited photos bring just as much meaning to a celebration of life as a thousand random ones (however, if you do have a thousand random ones, one idea is to toss them down the center of the funeral luncheon tables as conversation starters). An album or two is nice, but 10 albums is probably too many images to fully appreciate.

My father, who works as an attendant for a funeral home, meaning he attends a lot of services and helps move people and flowers and caskets from place to place, says only about 10 percent of people actually look at the photo displays, so to put a lot of pressure on yourself to create the perfect one seems ill advised. If you were very close to the deceased person and very broken up about it, you might want to delegate the responsibility to someone who is less emotionally fraught. But if you just can’t pull it together by yourself, some photo organizers (yes, it’s a profession) do photo displays for a funeral on a tight time-frame.

For lots of good inspiration, use Pinterest. Try searching “how to display photos at a funeral.”

Tidying up an ugly pile of negatives

If you’ve Marie Kondo-ed your upstairs storage closet, you might decide your negatives aren’t “sparking joy” and it’s time to dump them.

Not so fast.

It seems like everyone is crazy for Kondo-mania. Marie Kondo is the guru of the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and now Netflix reality show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Her process of sorting through your stuff to lighten your load in life is so widespread it has turned into a verb: Kondo-ing.

The last step in her method of decluttering is to tackle sentimental items, which would include photos and, presumably, negatives.

Back when people used film to takes pictures, prints came back from the processor with negatives. When you run across them in your photo collection, they probably won’t spark any joy; they’re difficult to view without a negative viewer, the images are small, and the negatives themselves are hard to handle—thin, awkwardly curved, slippery. You might be tempted to throw them straightaway.

But wait. These negatives are a backup to your printed photos and can be saved in case of damage to the original prints.

The most important thing to do with negatives: Store them separate from your prints. If something tragic were to happen to those prints (think: house fire or water pipe break), the negatives could be used to recreate the print if they are stored somewhere else.

Consider your negatives an insurance policy on your photos; insurance doesn’t usually spark joy either, but it’s nice to have in case of an emergency.

If you’re sorting through a mountain of family photos and come across a bunch of negatives, set them aside. The plastic sleeves in which some negatives come from the processor are likely photo-safe plastic (i.e., polyethylene) so it’s fine to keep them in those sleeves or — if the negatives are loose — the original photo envelope. Negatives don’t have to be sorted and edited as meticulously as a print collection unless or until it becomes necessary, as in the case of one of the aforementioned tragedies.

negs blogStore your negatives in the same way you would store your prints. Use photo-safe materials, and keep them in a cool, dry place (i.e., not the basement or attic) or better yet, the house of a good friend or relative.

If you handle your negatives in this manner, you’ll spark the joy of knowing you’ve mitigated risk without having to invest a lot of time going through every last negative strip and you’ll have tidied up your photo collection. Sweet.

5 ideas for fun photo gifts

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … to turn your photos into gifts.

My email inbox is flooded with offers from photo retailers right now. We’re quickly ticking down to the day it is too late to order a customized photo gift and actually receive it in time for Christmas. But we’re not there yet! There’s still time to make treasured gifts for your loved ones with photos. Here are a few ways I’m turning pixels into presents:

  1. 2018 events into Christmas cards: I think of my Christmas cards as little gifts to my friends. I try to make them lovely to hold with nice paper and interesting to read with the KISS principle (keep it simple, sister, no need to write two pages in the age of social media–if they really care that much, they already know). I did my Christmas cards this year with pictures of weddings and graduations at Minted, which promotes itself as offering “fresh designs from independent designers.” Their interface is fairly simple to use, and I also was able to order pre-addressed envelopes, saving me lots of hand cramps.
  2. Snapshots into calendars: In the past, I’ve created custom calendars for my mother-in-law (maybe this year, too, if I get my act together). It’s a great way to show off pictures of the grandkids (and now great-granddaughter) in a printed format. With quality cell phone images, I can print them nice and big so she can actually see the detail she misses on a tiny phone screen. I can even snag images from text conversations, meaning I don’t always have to depend on my own photography. Anyone who prints photos nowadays does calendars, too. Come prepared to your project with a list of relevant birthdays and anniversaries because many vendors can print those, too, in a calendar.
  3. cute dogsFacebook image into luggage tag: Did you know you can download images from your friends’ Facebook timelines? Well, you can. And I did. My friend posted the world’s cutest image of her dogs, and I turned it into a luggage tag for her at Shutterfly. I added the phrase, “There’s no place like home,” which is perfect for a world traveler, I think. I didn’t even have to wrap it. Shutterfly shipped it right to her door for me.
  4. Family photos into fishing lures: My 15-year-old nephew is an angler extraordinaire, so I’m having the local copy shop turn pictures of his brothers into fishing lures. What teen wouldn’t want to turn his brothers into bait?
  5. Picture into puzzle: I’m having the same local copy shop turn an image of my stepson and his girlfriend into a heart-shaped puzzle. How adorable is that?

If you’re not so great at technology, consider visiting your local photo or print shop for help. No need to know the difference between jpegs and pngs or uploading and downloading. The store that usually prints boring paperwork for me (saving me hours of frustration with my inkjet printer and dozens of print cartridges) also does all kinds of photo gifts including Nos. 4 and 5. I emailed my images to them, but I am sure I could have walked in there with my phone and they could have secured the image for me and turned it into a gift.

Good luck and get going! Time’s a-wasting!

Family historian turns dry documents into compelling story—and becomes an author

If you attended a family reunion this summer, you probably saw one those family history documents—a sheaf of 8-and-a-half-by-11 typewritten documents with a lot of birth dates and wedding dates. Maybe it included a few beat-up newspaper clippings documenting the obituaries of your ancestors.

Ho-hum.

Maybe you picked up it, paged through it looking for your mother’s name or your grandparents wedding date (to compare to the birth date of their first child? You minx, you), but then you spied the whipped-cream covered strawberry pie your aunt brought to the potluck, and that tired old family tree was history in your mind. Literally and figuratively.

Thumbnail of coverBut what if you could read a story about your great-uncle that looked like a book with a cover like this and began with these lines:

Today, as I was seated at my 14th story window in my Florida condominium and I began to write a story about my “forgotten” Uncle Duane Blair, I saw this little 4-by-6-inch white piece of paper. … As I turned it over—it was a picture of my grandfather William Blair and my grandmother Nina Emily (Shilston) Blair! I thought to myself on a sunny and glorious Florida day that I should be heading to the beach or I should be outside riding my bicycle! But no! As I looked into my grandparent’s eyes they seemed to say: “Thank you, Grandson, for what you are doing!”

Makes you want to read on, doesn’t it?

That’s the way to tell a story of family history. My husband’s uncle, Allen Leroy Blair, pulled together a few photos, a pile of dry military documents and the contents of a “crusty, old, brown wallet” to tell a compelling story of his uncle who died a sudden death at the age of only 23. Very few family members had even met Duane, let alone knew anything about him.

Uncle Al asked me to look at the writing, and I was blown away. It wasn’t the dry retelling of who begat whom. Instead, it was the story of Duane’s short life and the story of Allen’s discovery. How Uncle Al tracked down’s Duane’s military records. How he came to be the owner of Duane’s wallet, unopened since the day he died. How he came to write it all down for posterity. His writing reminded me a little of John Muir, the great 19th century naturalist, who could write about a tree or mountain in such a detailed and exciting way that it inspires people still today to visit a sequoia tree or climb a mountain. Contagious enthusiasm!

 

sample page

A sample page

Uncle Al’s writing deserved better presentation than a pile of copy paper. So I designed the 11,000-word manuscript into a 6-by-9-inch book, complete with dedication, table of contents and a page about the author (Uncle Al had already collected, scanned and inserted the few black-and-white photos of Duane that existed). I used a slightly larger than normal type to ease reading for some of our older family members. Then I designed the front and back covers in full, beautiful color. I uploaded the whole works to Createspace, which is Amazon’s on-demand publishing and distribution house. (By the way, Clickago Storywerks is available for hire to do these tasks for any author or family historian.)

 

A single professional printed copy of Duane’s life story costs only a few dollars (almost less than it costs to print at the copy shop) and it can be shipped anywhere in the United States. Uncle Al plans to have several copies available for signing at the Blair family reunion this fall. Plus, now Duane’s story is available not just for the Blair family to digest but for the whole country to read because it’s for sale on Amazon.

And for family historians who know him or not, Duane Reuben Blair’s story is an excellent example of how to turn dry genealogical documents into compelling reading.

If you’re interested in seeing more, check out the book here. Be sure to “Look inside” and “Flip to back” to help you imagine how amazing your family story might look in book form. And start planning your own book signing at the next family reunion.

* * *

The Percussionist's WifeBefore Clickago Storywerks, Monica Lee was The Percussionist’s Wife, the story of a marriage that crumbles when a drum line instructor is caught with one of his students. I tell the whole story–every sordid detail–in my memoir, which I published five years ago this week. To celebrate the milestone, the Kindle version of the book is free this week. Fans of memoir and true crime might agree with reviewers who’ve called it “remarkable,” “candid” and “compelling,” and more than one “couldn’t put it down”; “it reads like a thriller!” See for yourself. Download it here for free until midnight Friday.

Good cell phone photo hygiene

To be clear, if hygiene makes you think of germs, then yes, you need to clean your cell phone regularly. (If you’re looking for tips for that, use a 50/50 mixture of water and alcohol and a microfiber cloth. Use a cotton swab for the crevices.)

But this post isn’t about germs. It’s about the photos on your phone that seem to multiply like bacteria.

Do you have thousands of photos on your cell phone?

Are you paying monthly fees to back up your phone photos even though you never look at the backup and have no idea what photos are being stored?

Do you struggle to find a particular photo on your phone when you want to show someone?

Well, this post is for you. It’s time to clean up your photo routine. No rubber gloves necessary.

Here are four tips for better phone photo hygiene.

Delete liberally.

Just because you took the picture doesn’t mean you need to keep it. We are no longer living in the film age where we got double prints of every camera click. You need to go through your digital images periodically and click the trash can icon at least half as many times as you clicked the “take picture” button. Face it: Most digital images are junk. You tried different lighting, or you turned your phone sideways, or you took a close up, or you snapped a shot of an item you wanted to buy (and now you’ve purchased it), or you just accidentally took extra pictures. Delete the ones that don’t matter. Yes, right now. Or at least take a few minutes at regular intervals (the first of every month or every Sunday night or while you’re waiting for your hair stylist/doctor/oil change) to delete mercilessly.

Backup.

Backup the photos on your phone either with a cloud service or by saving to your computer or thumb drive. If you’re not sure how to save photos to your computer, check how this post on how to find your DCIM and move photos from your phone to your computer.

After backing up your photos, consider deleting them off your phone. Blasphemy? OK, you don’t have to delete all of them (though I do because I absolutely hate showing people photos on my tiny phone screen), but you can delete older ones and ones you no longer want to show other people. If you have photos on your phone you want to show off, check out this next tip.

Create albums.

If you have an iPhone, you can tag photos so they appear in different albums. Your phone will do this automatically for some photos, but if you want to show off photos of your kids or your new house, you can segregate those photos into an album so they’re easy to find. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the Photos icon.
  2. Click on “Albums” on the bottom right.
  3. Click the + sign in the top left.
  4. Name your new album (i.e., “Kids,” “New House,” “Biggest Fish”). Click save.
  5. Now tap the photos you want to save in that album. Scroll up and down to see all you have on your phone.
  6. Click Done in the top right.

Now when you want to show someone these particular photos, click the Photos icon, then Albums and find the one you want. Voila.

Print.

Many photo print shops offer apps just for this purpose including SnapFish, Shutterfly, CVS and Walgreens (search “print photos” in the App store). To make this work, you actually have to use the app and print some photos. In many cases, you can print items other than simply photographs, like photo books and other tchotchkes. Listen, if the photo was important enough to take and save, then it might be worth printing and enjoying in real life inside of only virtually.

There, now your phone is lighter, at least in terms of  memory use, and you can better enjoy the photos you’ve decided to keep. Nice work.

Now you can clean up the germy parts.

Good luck!