Mapping History

A few months ago I got the opportunity to start going through my grandmothers photographs. This collection is not your standard few albums with posed family snapshots, but thousands of prints, slides and negatives by both my grandmother and my great-grandmother. There are family portraits, landscapes, snapshots, and close-up shots of flowers. Starting to sort through these photographs that span my grandmothers entire life (and yes, I mean entire, as some of the oldest negatives in the collection were taken in Salt Lake City by my great-grandmother in 1911 when my grandmother was born), I find myself focused on the compositions and lines in the photographs, as well as the life lines that flow through the photographs and make up the stories of my mother’s, grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s lives.

So much of our lives have been shaped by where we live, and where we come from. My grandmother spent her childhood in the Alberta prairies, mapping the land her father farmed, and much later, helped her husband work their farm in the Wenatchee Valley. My grandfathers family had helped settle the land, and it was here, after 30 years of being a nomad that my grandmother settled down, as best as a nomad can, and found her roots.

So this is where I have started, somewhere before my beginning, in the middle of my grandmothers story, and near the beginning of my mothers story, following the maps of my family’s roots.

100 Years: Happy Birthday, Grandma!

100 years ago today, my Grandmother Grace was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. The picture below is probably the earliest recording of her: it was taken at her grandparents house in SLC. It is also the oldest negative I have in my collection of family photographs. The portrait was taken on sized 132 film, and was likely one of the first photographs taken on my great-grandmothers Kodak Folding Pocket camera that took postcard sized photographs. I now have what few remaining negatives my great-grandmother shot with this camera, as well as the camera itself, which we think is still in working order (but I will know when I actually finish my test roll of film. More importantly though, I still have my grandmother.

My grandmother Grace, as a baby, in Salt Lake City, UT

As I pack my bags to head over the mountain range and see my extended family for a weekend of birthday festivities, the realization of how lucky I am strikes me again. I can still ask her to tell me stories of growing up on the pains in Alberta, Canada. Or about when the Columbia Basin Irrigation project started and her and her husband placed the irrigation system in their once dry farm in Quincy, Washington. I can ask her about what it was like to be a press photographer in the 1960’s, when the “old boys club” had barely begun to be questioned. I can ask her these things and have more answers I would ever had just by looking at old photographs and making educated guesses. So happy birthday, Grandma Grace! And here’s too many more.