Read an Excerpt
please remember this
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden.
—T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton,” four quartets
No matter where you live or how big your home is, your photographs, heirlooms, and collectibles are part of your life. They help to convey your heritage, your family history, and at the same time, they are very much part of your present and future life. Today, in your own home, you are engaged in the act and the art of creating memories for yourself, your family, your relatives, and everyone who visits your home. How can you do that most effectively and creatively?
There are, indeed, some strategies. You’re making an artistic statement when you bring these objects out into the open and show them off. They may be beautiful on their own, but they are also evocative. They suggest memories and generate emotions. Of course, you can always bring out an heirloom, dust it off, and find some place for it. But in this book, I’d like to give you some tips on doing more than that. What will make that object look good in your environment? How can you give these possessions a meaningful place, or create a collection that has a whole new meaning?
Some people seem to avoid bringing out heirlooms for fear that they turn a home into an historical museum or a gallery. It doesn’t have to be that way. Create a space that you want to live in. You can bring memories alive, and create a sense of family history, in ways that express your passions and reflect your tastes. No need for mustiness and cobwebs. Family heirlooms deserve respect, of course, but the key is to integrate them into your everyday life. And, as I’ve pointed out, any object that has been imprinted in some way with the touch of your personality or the mark of your ownership becomes, in itself, an heirloom for future generations.
In the pages ahead, while I’m showing how family photos can be framed and hung, I’ll also provide many other ideas about the ways you can use family furniture, memorabilia,souvenirs from trips and vacations, and the other tangible reminders of who you are, where you came from, and what your experiences have been. I’ll invite you to peer into kitchens, bedrooms, studies, and libraries where many families have surrounded themselves and their household members with evocative antiques, flea-market finds, art, and memorabilia. You’ll see how some people have started collections that grew and grew, while others have been inspired to launch careers, take up new pursuits, and seek out fresh contacts in pursuit of their enthusiasms. I hope this will prove to be for you—as it has been for me—a journey of discovery.
But for all the inspiring examples in this book, I urge you to follow your own instincts and do it your way. Just as no family is quite like mine or yours, there’s really no such thing as a recipe for the way you express yourself in the domain of your own home. The space you occupy deserves to be filled with its own images, echoes, and signings. Your home is like no other. Why not fill it with reminders, at every turn, that this is so?
Mixing the Old and the New
Throughout our house, my husband and I have photographs of our parents, grandparents, children, and more distant relatives that are completely mixed in with photos that are much more recent. The point is to remind all of us that family is family, no matter which generation. When photos are intermingled this way, it helps bring up conversations about cultural history, reminding kids (especially) that they share a family life with parents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents. To further the sense of timelessness and continuity, I often put recent photographs in antique frames or, conversely, get brand-new frames for photos that are yellowed with age.
As I look around, I see that our home does indeed have a personal stamp on it. The whole range of objects—from my children’s art projects to porcelain pieces, old cameras, vintage boxes and cases, photographs, and numerous other items—have their own places in my studio, where I spend so much of my time. These are the personal touches and statements that remind me of one home that is not like any other. In fact, some of my ancestors I know best only through their images. With some of these ancestors I find myself looking for clues to who they were, with little to go on except their garb, their posture, and their surroundings. For example, I have a picture of my mother’s father, Josef, who died when my mother was three or four years old. In the age-tinged photograph, I see a young Austrian gentleman in old Vienna standing alongside his classic Badge motorcycle. He wears a rakish cap with a narrow, black brim, his goggles perched on top like the eyes of a frog. What a sight! Vest, tie, jodhpurs, the whole bit—he’s obviously posed, a cigarette in hand, looking prepared to break some land-speed record and, after that, take on the world. And instead? Instead, he is the father my mother lost, the grandfather I would never know, the hint of the shadow of a clue to my own beginnings. And this portrait is all I have!
In every home, I think, there need to be places where family photographs, heirlooms, and collectibles can be displayed. The first step is to find some of these items where they’re stored or hidden away in different areas around your home. The next step is to bring them out of hiding and to begin to consider the spaces where they can go in your home. Let’s begin with the photographs.
Where Are You Hiding Your Kodak Moments?
When Kodak introduced the first easy-to-use, handheld box camera in 1888, the advertising slogan was “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest.” Like most advertising taglines, this was a gross exaggeration. Yes, the box camera was easy to use, and it caught on. Families at home or on vacation started to carry it everywhere, snapping photographs of Aunt Sally and Uncle Jim in front of their first Model-T, or Sister Susie and Cousin Jane in the garden. For family occasions there were the obligatory posed photographs, with everyone dressed to the nines and smiling for the camera, standing stiffly until the family’s designated photographer finally pushed the button and said, “Okay, we’re done.”
Part of the Kodak slogan was, in fact, quite true. If the intrepid family photographer unloaded the film and delivered it to the drugstore or post office, Kodak did its part and returned the prints. In many families the delivery was eagerly anticipated. When the photographs arrived, they were passed around and pored over. The box camera was, indeed, an innovative family-memory device. It captured moments that would never be lost. Kodak had performed a great service.
But in creating this most convenient of familymemory accessories, Kodak—soon followed by other companies—also gave birth to a monster. At first the monster was just a stack of photographs in a binder or two. Before long, the stack grew to occupy boxes. Then drawers. Then whole shelves. All across America, and then the world, family photographs were stacked, stored, boxed, moved, and, as time went on, passed down from generation to generation. And as technology advanced, so did the vast oversupply of family photos until, today, they occupy nooks, crannies, and closet spaces. And with the advent of digital photography, millions of images got stored away in cyberspace. So, now, in addition to foraging through the house for photos we’d like to display, there’s the further challenge of scouring digital archives.
Kodak did indeed fulfill its advertised promise to build the camera, create the film, and handle the processing. But as for “the rest”? Well—that’s all up to us.
In my own photography work I like the shots that “capture the moment.” The best, to me, is the photo that finds people when their guard is down, when they are expressing themselves or relating to each other or to their environment rather than posing for the camera. But I also want to emphasize, right here, that this is an artistic and personal preference. True, any selection of family photos requires you to make certain choices. But throughout this book, I want to make my message clear: It is more important to choose what you love, whether it’s a photograph that was professionally commissioned or one that you took on a special day.
The same can be said of the heirlooms and collectibles that you bring out of storage and into the light. Some will evoke an instant response, perhaps because they’re associated with a particular person who was important to you, or perhaps because it brings back good memories. Go by your instincts. Even if something looks like it could be, or should be, a “valuable piece,” that’s not the best reason to make it part of your family landscape. To earn that right, it needs to mean something more.