My dad passed away last June. He lived all of his 97 years in the same city. He had lived in our grey stone ranch ever since 1959, when he and my mom had it built.
My three siblings and I spent ten days clearing out the house so it could be put on the market. Once we started delving into each room (especially our own bedrooms, still set up they way they were when we were kids), we were amazed and delighted at what was unearthed. One of my brothers found his Safety Patrol badge from elementary school, my sister read to us from her middle school diaries, and I discovered a big chunk of my cast from when I broke my arm in 5th grade. We found that not much had been thrown away over all the years. My sister came bounding up the stairs from the basement one day with one of the best finds: our parent's wedding cake topper... from 1946! None of us had ever laid eyes on it before.
Of course, objects from the past evoke all kinds of feelings. It's a sad time after a death. You're already filled with raw emotion, so running your hand over your recently deceased father's favorite sweater can bring on a torrent of tears. I found myself wanting to put so many of the sentimental objects from my whole life! in the plastic bin with my name on it. How could I part with my mother's needlepoint pillows? My dad's glasses? A love note from my 8th grade boyfriend?
But where would I put it all? I have my own house full of things. No way could I clear away enough space for all of these objects!
My daughter had posed a question before I made the trip to my family home. Could it be as meaningful to look at a photograph of the doll that won you a blue ribbon in first grade as it would be to take it home and put it in a drawer or in a box that might get hidden away? Of course! She was right. Just as I had done when I made the "Estate Sale" series (when my husband and I downsized from a house to a small apartment), I could photograph the objects I wanted to hold onto. And then, maybe... I could let them go?!
YES! Photography flexed its muscle and helped me navigate the ten days during which I said goodbye to, among many other gems, a dance card from a 6th grade school formal, the pack of cigarettes I snuck back from our family's trip to Europe in the late 60's, an autograph from my favorite Kentucky Wildcat basketball player, my Dennis the Menace Club membership card, and my grandmother's Mah Jongg tiles.
I asked my siblings to set aside their own pile of sentimental objects with which they didn't want to part. Theirs, along with mine, became my portrait subjects. I dragged a kitchen chair over to a window, draped it with a piece of black fabric, and lovingly placed and arranged the little pieces of our past so we could always look at pictures of them.
The natural light, the beautiful vintage quality of each object, the spare nature of the scene, and the memories each one held, made for a perfect photo project. I shot them with my iPhone, then my sis and I designed pages containing about 125 pictures and, finally, had a gorgeous book printed by Artifact Uprising. Each of us got a copy.
It's amazing how often I pick it up just to catch a quick glimpse of my mom's compact or the old radio that used to be on the kitchen counter... and how often the images evoke a certain smell or a certain bit of music. I love being able to turn to these pictures whenever I want comfort, kind of like a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.
The pictures never let me down, and I didn't even need to clear much space on a shelf for the bound collection of them.