Who Are These People?



I doubt things have gotten better as photography has gone digital. If anything it is probably worse.

I think I first saw this picture about 1972 as we were packing our belongings in Montreal for the family move to Ottawa. It was in a box of photos, all black and white, that I think had come from my maternal grandparents. Some of the pictures had names on the back, others did not.

I remember asking my mother about this one, obviously the oldest of the bunch. It is a “tintype,”‎ which means it pre-dates the invention of photo paper. In the 19th century most photos were printed on thin sheets of tin and were called daguerreotypes. I don’t remember what my mother said about this one, I don’t think she could identify them. Certainly she couldn’t when I asked her this week. My guess is a mother and daughters, maybe my great-great-great grandmother, about 1870. But that is only sheer speculation on my part.

The tintype resurfaced when I was going through some old photos last month. I still wonder who those people were and what is their relationship to me, but I guess that is lost to history. The tintype though wasn’t the only photo I was unable to put names to.

When you are young you think you will remember everything.  So there’s no need to write names (and relationships) on the back of photographs. Of course you won’t forget. But you do.

In the box I opened last month were pictures I tool with my first roll of film with my first camera when I was eight years old. I know they were taken at Cedar Lodge Camp at Lake Memphramagog, but I don’t know who the people are.  There were also pictures from high school, from weddings I attended, from church events – and I have absolutely no idea who those people are. You would think if I went to the wedding I would remember, but a lot changes in 40 years.

Photography is pretty much all digital these days, but I suspect the problem is the same. Who takes the time to re-label “IMG_201709223” with the names of the people in the photo? How can we possibly forget who those people are? But we will.

At my brother’s suggestion I searched in Internet for a duplicate of this picture, just in case some other family member had scanned and uploaded it. The program I used scanned 21.8 billion images in a fraction of a second. No match.

Maybe you should spend the rest of the day labelling some photos. In 140 years your descendants will thank me.

One comment

  1. Well said!! A reminder to me, to sift through and label all those black and white photos in cartons.

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