The Importance of Family Photos: A Life's Legacy

For my birthday this past June, I told my dad that I wanted digital copies of all our old family photos. I’ve had a couple of projects and requests this year that required an photo of me as a child, and I realized that while I have a few in my possession. . . most of them are at my parents’ house, and most of my baby pictures are on slides - never printed. (Sidenote: this also has me thinking about my kids and whether I should be printing them “hope chest copies” of our family albums every year for them to have when they are grown . . .)

While we were in California visiting my parents this summer, my dad handed me a USB with image files on it going back decades. As soon as we returned to New York, I eagerly stuck the USB in my laptop and opened up a veritable treasure trove of family memories.

I am still working my way through all the files. I browse a folder every now and then, savoring all the goodness. One of these days I will pick my favorites and print and album (or two or three!).

A few experiences I’ve had while looking through these photographs:

  1. I’ve re-visited my first home.

  2. I’ve remembered burrowing my head into my first dog and I’ve remembered how gentle she was.

  3. I’ve heard my grandmother’s laugh.

  4. I’ve seen through my parents’ eyes what it was like to bring a newborn baby home for the first time.

  5. I’ve heard my other grandmother’s voice.

  6. I’ve smelled my grandfather’s pipe.

  7. I’ve felt the knit blanket on my great-grandmother’s knee.

  8. I have felt more in touch with my roots and heritage.

  9. I have felt the immense love of and for my family.

  10. I have felt more myself than I have in a long time.

As a photographer, you are often striving for stunning, complicated, award-winning images. But what I can tell you is that what really matters in the end, when you are looking back over that legacy of images, is that an photograph makes you feel something. That it takes you back. That it GIVES back.

Blur, grain, exposure, light leaks, clutter? None of that matters.

Take pictures. Document your life. Print them. Display them. Keep them safe. Share them.

There is nothing, NOTHING more valuable to me than these.

Francesca Russell is a documentary-style family photographer and filmmaker located in Garden City South, NY. If you'd like to see more of her recent documentary family photography, head over to her Facebook page or follow her everyday adventures on Instagram. If you are looking for a family photographer or lifestyle videographer on Long Island or in the New York City area to document your family, small business or event, please contact her for more information.