Recently while doing some research for a family project I discovered much more than imagery. Digging up photographs from the past and then finally viewing them for the first time led to a deep, resonating feeling of personal connection. Experiencing a generational pull into the images awakened other senses. As I looked deep into the collection of images I felt myself tasting a dusty back yard, hearing a mix of Spanish and English voices, smelling cigar smoke and whiskey and feeling a humbleness and survival like spirit within the eyes of my family members.
The next photograph is of my great grandfather, although I'm not exactly sure which one he is, I think he's on the upper far right. This group shot conveys in so many ways the time period when hats and jackets were the required attire of a gentleman, smoking was everywhere, work boots were honorable and mustaches reined supreme. I could hear the photographer carefully instructing everyone's position, telling the men to tilt their hats up or to the side so their faces would be more visible and finally asking everyone to look straight into the lens of the camera to hold still. As I looked closer I noticed that most of my family not only had cigars but also small flasks of what I would assume as whiskey.
I knew my grandfather was often interviewed and recognized among local historians, as he was at one time hailed as the longest living native resident in the town of Casa Grande, Arizona. I knew that some old family photographs had been published in the local paper of my great grandfather and I had heard from my Aunt that the local historical society had some photographs of our family in it's collection. After contacting the Casa Grande Valley Historical Society I confirmed it was true. In fact the CGVHS has a special collection devoted to our family! After my nominal research fee was paid and papers were signed I received 13 photographs as well as a statement read by my great aunt Sara about my great grandfather Ramon Andrade during a day of commemoration put on by the CGVHS in 1990. I should take one brief moment to mention how important our local historians are. Please remember to take advantage of their services and support their commitment to preservation!
Since starting my tintype studio I've had dozens of conversations with people whom proudly told me of their family photographs, some of which tintypes, and many dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries.. As I looked over the collection of photographs I too was able to experience the existential feeling so unique and personal that it will surely stick with me for the rest of my life. Another image is of my great grandfather posing with another gentleman inside a small market labeled on the back, "circa 1920". I could smell the fresh meat in the front case, hear the stillness in the small market as the photographer clicked the shutter and almost taste the pickles in the jars on the shelf sitting neatly aligned underneath the vanilla wafers and Heinz Ketchup.
Photographs are one of those rare possessions that people tend to hold most dear. My reasons for pursuing photography are many, however one reason remains most prevalent. That is to be responsible in capturing one's likeness for future generations to view upon. Responsible for capturing all the details in an attractive image. Photography's ability to hold something sacred, especially when it comes to those of our families is for me one of my most dedicated pursuits. That visual memory is so important. As it's viewed upon stories of days past come to light solidifying our own importance of existence, pushing us to make something real for ourselves. It seems apparent that the photographs we make today only age to perfection for tomorrow as the photographs taken of long ago stand as masterpieces of the past.