How Hereditics Started

My grandmother, around age 3 in about 1914

I have spent all day immersed in pictures and names. Sorting and organizing almost one hundred years of photos and mementos in some sort of chronological order, labeling photos long forgotten with the names of those frozen in the frame, and retouching photographs that have lost their battle with the years and elements and bear scars of creases and fading. My eyeballs may fall out of my head at any given moment, and I have lost all hope that sanity will find me again today.

You see, I am in the throes of the project that is the precursor to what I have affectionately dubbed my “Hereditics” work. Next month marks my grandmothers one hundredth birthday, and as some sort of gift to her and others in the family, I have spent the last 3 weeks or so digging through boxes, sorting and scanning long stored photographs, negatives, slides, and other memorabilia my grandmother clung to through her life. Out of the thousands of photographs I have looked through, I am placing roughly one hundred in a book for her for her birthday. There are photographs her mother took from infancy to childhood, pictures my grandmother took of her family and adventures as a farmer and journalist and press photographer, and mementos spanning almost the entire twentieth century. The scope of the project overwhelms me, and the prospect of successfully showing one’s life condensed into 40 pages is daunting.

The facts are that the process is exhausting, and I feel like a jack hammer that is just starting to break through layer upon layer of concrete. I have also learned more about my family than I imagined I ever would. I am beginning to understand the complex relationships of the immensely strong women that make up my heritage. I am beginning to understand pathologies that run like rivers through generations and maladies that hold hands with extreme intelligence. I am beginning to understand how cycles are patterned and broken. My mental Rolodex has expanded to the point where I can name my great-aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins and great-cousins and family friends and so-on and so-forth at any age, at just one glance. And I realize the information I have unearthed thus far I a droplet of water in a very large pond.

Somehow, I feel this book is only the beginning, and as I continue to scratch the surface in this anthropological journey, it may take me places I never could have dreamed of going. Before I can take off on the journey completely, I need to turn up The Pixies, tune out the outside word and finish this preemptive mini adventure by finishing this book!

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Hereditics

my great-grandfather on the Canadian prairie in approx 1915

I just made up a word: hereditics. Meaning the politics of heritage. I don’t mean politics like laws and bills and the like, no, I mean politics as in “the total complex of relations between people living in society.”

That’s what this blog is partly about. You see, in 1959, my grandmother, Grace, became a news reporter in the Columbia Basin. In those days, reporters were their own photographers, and my grandmother toted around a Rolleiflex K4 and used a 4×5 camera lent to her by one of the papers she worked for taking pictures of the Columbia River Irrigation Project, traffic accidents, community officials and whatever else was to make the pages of the weekly and dailies she worked for. She also ran a portrait studio, and spend much of her life taking photographs of her children, the farm she worked with her husband, and anything else that happened across her path.

Before that, in 1911, her mother, my great-grandmother, Emma, bought a Kodak pocket folding camera that took postcard sized photographs. The camera used 122 film, and traveled from Salt Lake City (where my great-grandmother lived) to Alberta, Canada, to Seattle, WA and everywhere in-between. Emma drug that camera around with her the entire second half of her life, taking photographs of her husband, children, the Canadian prairie, and whatever else she could find.

And prior to that, Emma’s father, my great-great-great grandfather, Christian, a minister, was trained as a publisher in Norway, and ran a small paper in Ballard, WA. He rented presses and spent hours hunched over setting type and running the machines. Although he had trained Emma in the art of the press, she must have considered herself a lady and took the road of housewife, instead of publisher.

What does this all have to do with me? Well, I hold my BFA in photography, and currently work in print production. I have been shooting with my grandmother’s Rollieflex for 10 years and have also recently acquired my great-grandmothers Kodak folding camera (which is still in working order and has my first test roll housed in the back) and many of my great-grandmothers and my grandmothers negatives, slides and prints.

I am beginning a new path in my work. Sorting through these slides, these stories. Trying to make sense of my heritage and my passion for communicating through art. If you would like to join me in my journey, here is where it starts.

And I’ll wait for my new word to make it into Merriam-Webster.