March 4, 2017

Why I Take Pictures

Olsen Family Reunion, Marquette, MI 2014My childhood home was located at the bottom of a hill and when it rained heavily our greatest fear was what happened in the basement. Horrified gasps and exclamations spewed when we cracked the door open to a flooded basement – at times to mid-calf. A particularly deep water flood damaged my parent’s photo-filled cedar chest. Family pictures were barely salvageable from this soaked trunk, but placing photos individually on every available flat surface around the house saved some memories. Being a self-proclaimed family historian, I want to share the 8 reasons I take pictures. From experiences of loss from floods and fires, this is what I know for sure…
    Donald Conrad Olsen
  1. A Soulful Purpose. My father took up photography in his 50s when medical issues ravaged his body, but not his spirit. He dove wholeheartedly into this new hobby - it kept him focused, with a purpose, and he plain had fun shooting. Every aspect of photography pulled him out of a very scary and dreary time. Today, we benefit from the photo-memories left behind. For me, seeing an image of what I took the time to click, process, print is fulfilling – even the “bad” photos spur me to learn more. Sharing on social media allows others to enjoy special moments and gives me tremendous satisfaction and a semblance of pride and accomplishment.
  2. Pictures of Memorable Moments. Dad insisted on taking a picture of my sibling the day after his father died – she had been crying and refused. My father was wise and told her that a photographic record of family is important and her reaction to our grandfather’s death would be part of her history. Pictures of war, poverty, plenty, disgust, trials, indicate to me that we are human and move us into action, or possibly to tears. I am constantly on the lookout for experiences (memories) deserving to be preserved. Even when not carrying my camera, my cell phone is ready to capture history, humor, a memory, an event.
  3. Videos. Sauntering, or waddling, side to side was my father’s gait. We have an 8 mm record of his unique ambulation, learned as a toddler learning to walk while being raised on a boat. A treasure which would have been lost without video-photography.
  4. Chance Photo Opportunities. A perfect photo moment brought such emotion, including tears and smiles. My mother was resting on the sofa, chatting on the phone, when my nephew climbed on her hip. Mom smoothed his very thick black hair with loving strokes. He died young …  so this photo became even more precious as a tangible way to visualize this tender memory. Take every chance you can to click away – cell phones work well, too; be sure to download and print the timely and historical ones, before the photos are deleted and lost to history.
    Tender moments Alfreda Olsen and Corey Franco
  5. Proof is in the Photo. I’m a storyteller. An “adopted” forthright and frank matriarch refused to believe my life-stories and would insist that they were not true. One in particular, was that I was selected to a special softball team to play against some local celebrities – she did not believe me and intimated that I was “pulling her leg” – which she could not abide. But, I had pictures! The proof that I indeed played softball on this select team … against Magic Johnson, Jay Vincent and Greg Kelser. My integrity was reclaimed (and my hand mortally wounded; another story) – but only after her death.
    Alfreda Olsen always ready with a smile
  6. Pictures of Emotions. Following my mother’s death, countless people shared that mom was the most positive woman they knew. Recounting memories of mom … her humor, laughter, and bursting out with a smile when company came calling … is difficult to portray if not backed up with photographs. Taking shots of her laughing are priceless and authenticate her life, even in the midst of trials and illness.
  7. Diaries and Photos. A hard-covered burgundy diary materialized in the half-flooded cedar chest in my childhood basement. Written in a leaky pen by my grandmother, Edna Olsen, from January through February, 1938, she brought us into her “cabin in the woods” of Marquette. This particular
    Alfreda and Stephen Olsen peeking out cabin door
    winter saw one of the worst blizzards in Upper Peninsula history – and she documented living through that winter, a challenging time of blizzards, illness, near starvation, hardships, and her delightful humor. 
    Pictures of family during the 30s and 40s and of those whom she wrote about are vital to the continuation of family… and to our receptiveness and acknowledgement of where we came from and our historical strength and vulnerabilities - as seen through the eyes of a written diary and a camera lens.
  8. Traveling. Travels to Russia to adopt an 11-year-old girl with her 13-year-old brother without pictures to document this tremendous adventure would
    Zhenya and Ksusha in Perm, Russia
    have been more than tragic. The meeting of our daughter with her new sister – no words can speak to this treasure. 
    These photos are the only ones our new children would have of their home country, of the orphanage they lived in, and of their friends who lived there. Visiting new places, people and attending special events should have a visual record for all generations. The photos do not have to be perfect with the right ISO or aperture or lighting – only a documentation of 
    the event, even imperfectly.
    Adelyn Geissel with new sister, Ksusha in Perm, Russia




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