Memory Keeper

There’s been discussion in this forum over the last couple of months about creative orientation and motivation to photography and post-processing. I’ve pondered the question since last month’s Third Thursday challenge, and I’ve finally concluded that I’m more of a memory keeper than I am a photographer. I do, of course, use photography to capture images of places we’ve been and things we’ve done in order to craft stories around those images, but my emphasis is on using photographic and post-processing techniques to preserve and communicate our family’s history even when the available images are way less than perfect. A case in point:

In the bitter cold of a North Dakota winter, my grandparents were trying to get to the nearest doctor for the delivery of their first child. Whether by automobile or, more likely, in a horsedrawn wagon across the winter-rutted, unpaved roads of the time, their journey would have been slow and very difficult. They realized they wouldn’t be able to make it to the doctor so they stopped at a post office somewhere between their home and the town where they hoped to find a doctor. Their daughter came into the world in the post office at Grassy Butte, North Dakota on February 2, 1929.

This was a story I wanted to preserve so I could share it with my siblings, but there were no family photos or other memorabilia of the event. I was fortunate to find a 1958 image of the Grassy Butte Post Office on Wikipedia and used that public domain image to scrap this valuable piece of our family’s history. The only problem was that the original image sported a way-too-prominent and definitely-not-1929 “United States Post Office” bumper sticker across one of the building’s window panes.

Original Wikipedia image

I am happy to report that recent versions of Photoshop/Photoshop Elements provide content aware editing that makes it possible to seamlessly remove distracting portions of an image by filling the area with image-appropriate content. (In Photoshop, use the lasso tool to select the distracting portion of the image and then choose Edit>Fill>Content Aware>OK to simultaneously remove the distracting imagery and fill the area with content that is sampled from the area around the removed image.)

I know some people object to modifying images in this way, but I believe edits like this are acceptable as long as the edited image isn’t portrayed as “straight-out-of-camera” and any post-processing changes are identified/described. This is the final version of my scrapbook page:

This story is especially precious to me because I remember how much my mother enjoyed the tale (she would be even more thrilled if she knew that little post office made its way onto the National Registry of Historic Places!), and I’m glad to be able to provide this bit of family history to my younger brothers and sisters because none of them recall our mother telling them this particular story.

Posted for the Third Thursday Challenge at How to Feather an Empty Nest.

7 thoughts on “Memory Keeper

  1. Pingback: Irene Agnes Armbrust (1929-2001): Making the most of what she had (52 Ancestors #11) | Tidbits & Treasures

  2. I’m visiting this post very late, but I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I love the way you edited this image and used it to illustrate your wonderful family story. I’ve never been into scrapbooking, and I also don’t do a lot of “creative” editing or altering of my photographs. I see other photographers doing amazing things with photoshop, and sometimes wish I could, too, but that’s just not me. You are a wonderful Memory Keeper!

  3. I’ve really enjoyed reading your lovely post and following the original story as well as the one of how the photo came to be. You’ve made it work perfectly … Yep, memory-keeper extraordinaire (and clever with Photoshop to boot!).

  4. Wanda, I truly enjoy the elegance by which you write. Your words paint pictures, and your pictures create words. The term you coined “memory keeper” is very apt. And one has come full force recently as I have found many pictures that produce stories for my current series of posts. Take care, Bill

  5. Wanda – another fantastic entry to the Third Thursday Challenge. I am in complete agreement with you – in my view, a photograph is simply raw art material and editing in post-processing is an important part of the creative process. Content-aware fill is a technical marvel, allowing me to remove distracting elements with ease. Of course, I do understand the the ethics of digital editing in terms of journalism and documentary photography but that isn’t what I do – so all the capabilities that Photoshop has to offer are fair game.

    What a wonderful way to memorialize family history – this is a great story. I love the way you distressed the post office photo, blending it seamlessly into the page. You are an extraordinary memory-keeper.

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