My family no longer maintains bound family photo albums -- that stopped when we bought digital cameras. We rarely looked at them anyway, and we NEVER watched home movies on outmoded formats (8 mm and Super 8 film, beta videotape) that were gathering dust in the attic. But thanks to recent innovations in digital technology, we now peruse and enjoy family images more than ever.
Stored on my laptop, on a 300 gig portable hard drive that's part of my home network or on the web, they are so easy to access, edit, share, copy, set to music, and turn into new movies or new stories. Not only do they provide a record of family history, they enhance memory and help us to view our own histories in a new light and new perspectives. With the click of a button, I can peruse photos or videos from pick a year, say, 1968 or 1984. More recently, images from digital cameras are so plentiful they provide not just a record of special occasions (as film cameras did) but a kind of diary of our lives.
With an LCD projector or widescreen TV, deceased family members and friends walk across the big screen, full of life, laughing and telling stories, so that their descendants who barely remember or never knew them can now get to know them at least a little. It's easy to think of them as spirits with a continuing presence in our lives. They have achieved a kind of digital immortality.
It's almost as if the science-fiction thriller, The Final Cut starring Robin Williams, has come true: a person's entire life can be recorded; when the person dies, the video is edited and shown at the funeral. The tension in the movie comes from the job of the video editor -- what to keep in and edit out -- especially when he finds disturbing footage in the archive.
Fortunately, I haven't yet had to grapple with such dilemmas. I mainly create multi-media presentations for celebrations. For a wedding anniversary, I selected favorite images of my wife and played them in Windows "My Pictures" slideshow format to music we both love. When we watched it together, our hearts melted.
For my uncle's 80th birthday party, I created a slide show of pictures from his life to the tune of Frank Sinatra's "I Did It My Way." At the end, his friends and family members gave him an ovation.
Home movies have taken on new life with pocket-size cameras that hold an hour or more of good-quality video, and digitizing and editing tools such as Windows Moviemaker, Premiere, and Pinnacle digital video transfer. I used Pinnacle to digitize old analog beta and VHS videotapes. And we can now share home movies online through such services as Videoegg or YouTube.com that can also be posted on personal blogs.
With a unobtrusive pocket video camera, my son and I recorded the memorial service of my 86-year-old mother for those who could not attend and posted it online on a blog I had created for her. Friends reported that shortly after my mother's death, they googled her name and found themselves spending hours on her blog, getting a fuller measure of her life. As a retired teacher and one-time North Carolina English Teacher of the Year, she left a huge archive of really interesting personal writing -- social history, family history and her philosophy of teaching -- which I edited and shaped into a book, Teacher of Our Town. I used the print-on-demand service Lulu.com. So far the book has sold nearly 200 copies.
To resurrect old home movies, first I had to
purchase a second-hand Beta VCR from Ebay.com. Remarkably, my family's 50-year-old 8 mm home movie projector still works, so it wasn't difficult to point the videocamera and record them.
I hired my son Matthew to scan, digitize and enhance hundreds of family photos going back to the 19th century. Digitizing is essential to preserving and improving photos. To organize them properly, I created digital folders on my computer for each year, by subject or by person, event or place. After Matthew purchased a second-hand slide scanner from a videographer friend, my brother-in-law hired him to scan a collection of 600 slides going back to the 1950s. I scanned my collection of 400 slides going back to the 1970s. Other family members and friends have shared digital photos with us over the years. Since one of Matthew's hobbies is photography as he travels around the world in his job working on a cruise ship, together we now have a collection of probably 25,000 images, easily copied and shared with friends and family who are interested in specific images.
When my nephew married recently, I could easily put together a slide show of the couple's individual development from birth to marriage, and set it to evocative music. Following the wedding, at a reunion of first and second cousins, we had fun watching and listening to home movies of ourselves and each other and of our parents and grandparents from 20, 30, 40 or even 60 years ago. It was almost like time-traveling.
There we all were on the day Nixon resigned from office, August 9, 1974, in an audiotape I dubbed to videotaped pictures from the era, telling how we felt and making predictions for the future of our country, some of which proved to be remarkably prescient and others that proved to be foolish. It was amazing how accents, fashion, and language have changed since then.
There we were at a reunion 20 years ago this summer, with our children as toddlers who are now flourishing adults. How quickly time passes!
Some of our family photos go back to the 1860s and home movies go back to the 1940s. My uncle, in his eighties, points out that if photos aren't labeled (who is that?) or dated, they are of little use to descendants, and for that reason he has discarded the photo collections of older relatives. He also notes that while digital photos may have an almost immortal life expectancy, most people's interest in photos wanes if they do not know or remember who is in the photo. True. Unless there's either a historical or family context that gives meaning to the images. Tracing genealogy is a huge hobby these days. Ancestry.com now allows members to post not only photos but video clips of extended family members. Imagine what's going to be available 100 years from now.
Links In This Post:
- 300 gig portable hard drive to store videos.
- movie, The Final Cut starring Robin Williams, at Netflix
- Pinnacle digital video transfer
- Videoegg or YouTube.com
- slide scanner
- Video of my mother's memorial service, posted online. The funeral director said it was one of the best and most enjoyable services he has been to.
- Lulu.com print-on-demand book publishing
- My son Matthew's cruise ship travel blog
- Ancestry.com genealogy-tracing.
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