the all-seeingeye Protecting Family Photos: Introduction

Yes, we thought it was very funny . . .

This series of articles documents my ongoing effort to preserve a large body of family photographs. It will, over time, evolve into a presentation to be made at local historical societies and libraries. At this time it is sketchy and somewhat disorganized. Please ask questions if something isn't clear. Answering them will make this work stronger.

History is an accident of preservation.

This is a deceptively simple notion. What we know of the past depends entirely on what manages to survive from that time. That material tends to fall into two categories-the stuff that survives because it is tough to destroy and too large to sell or steal, and the things which come down to us through a series of near misses and strangely fortuitous events. There are several early photographers whose work we know because somebody stuffed it into an attic and forgot about it a couple of generations ago.

When I speak of preservation, I tend to think on a time scale of a century or more. A successful long-term preservation effort will cross several generations. At some point, if all goes well, your photographs will be something a museum or archive will care about. If you give it to your kids, and they throw it out, you've failed. The best chance you have at this kind of preservation is to organize the material and make it effortless to continue to preserve it. Keeping historical material is a matter of stewardship, and the best way to assure that future generations also approach the stuff with an attitude of stewardship, is to make it easy. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren must be able to tell at glance that 1) this stuff has some relevance to my family or is historically significant, 2) somebody made the effort, so it must be important.

The goal, then, is to organize the photographs in such a way that their relevance is preserved, and to store them in a way that makes their physical preservation as easy as possible for others. The first step is to get organized.

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