I am a native New Yorker, born in and raised in The Bronx. Photographs and photography have always been a part of my life in one way or another. My earliest memories are these books....some were 8 x 10.....some 11 x 14....there were three main photo albums filled with loads of photographs....painstakingly, meticulously, and lovingly put together by my grandmother, Marie Jefferson.
According to my Aunt Louise, my dear Aunt Josephine Gaul (my grandmother's sister) was the "official" photographer of the family back then. There were little captions -- handwritten captions -- detailing who was in the photo, the year it was taken, and the location. What was done by hand back in the day, we can now do electronically. In those days, the "metadata" was handwritten, and you had to know all the details by heart. There were no keystrokes to speed up locating the family history. These photo albums were a detailed photographic history of the family, and I would have my grandmother drag then out whenever we went to visit her. I never tired of looking at them -- each and every one of them. Of course, my immediate family had their own albums as the years went by. They were a visual encylcopedia of the family and were treated like treasures. They were like a magic portal into the early goings on in my family. It introduced me to family members I would meet later on in my life, and gave us the history -- photographically -- of the family members who had passed on. My dad's side of the family also had photographs, and even though they were not as detailed, they were just as significant and profound in their own way. I can recall my dad pulling photos out of an envelope in his dresser drawer and regaling us with stories shared with him by his mother and uncle about various family members. Aunts and uncles, distant cousins, and the grandfather that I'd never met but knew very well, thanks to my dad, and the uncle (dad's elder brother) who died way too soon. Dad's time in the U.S. Navy (when segregation was prevalent), times spent hanging out with his "stickball friends," all of these things came back to life for him and for us. All of the photos of his friends and our relatives that he lost contact with sprang to life whenever he pulled out those photos he kept in a drawer.
Studying those family albums, and listening to the stories about the people in them strengthened our family connections in the most wonderful way. It didn't matter what time of year it was either -- birthdays, visits to grandma's house for the weekend, holidays -- you name it, someone captured it on film, and it ended up in the family photo album. Photo albums are like a visual encyclopedia that tell the stories of many a family (and family member) without words. They fuel the imagination as well, as you look at them and wonder what life must have been like, way back when.
Years later, I would pick up a camera and find myself beginning to make my own contributions to this photographic legacy....quite often. So much so that I am now my family's photographic historian. I also discovered that I was far more comfortable behind the lens capturing and preserving family memories with my trusty Nikon rangefinder. I treasure each and every one of those photos today.
My passion for photography has also led me to capture photos at weddings, at concerts featuring my favorite groups. The music that I listened to growing up...The Temptations, The Four Tops, heck all of Motown....it was a way to preserve those performances and the music that was such an important part of my life. Photography has a way of bringing people together, and that's one of the main reasons why I do it. But more importantly, it was and is a way to document the history of family and friends. It is an opportunity to give someone a gift -- a memorable gift -- that they can treasure and enjoy. As we all grow and change, we come to realize how very precious these memories become. As family members grow up, move on, move out and move through our lives and theirs, these memories become precious jewels that we treasure and don't ever want to lose. It is a way to share in the lives of those you love and those you meet along life's journey. It is one of the best ways to preserve a legacy.