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Generations:Roots & Layers

As a high school photography teacher one of our favorite digital assignments was for the students to explore their family history through layers of meaning and images and create a final montage or photo story in book form to share with their family.

Photo of Peggy Hartzell
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Besides learning and practicing many innovative digital techniques using cameras, the scanner and Photoshop, students made a meaningful connection to their family roots and elders by asking questions and in turn had an end product to offer back to their families. Creating a composite image allowed layers of generations, times and places to be expressed in one image. One student never knew that her grandfather served in WWII until she talked to her grandmother about this project and came in wearing his dog tags one morning which she scanned  and used in her composite. High school students need to feel the support of their extended families and  are capable of giving back through their skills in the digital imaging world. The final images brought tears to many a parent and grandparent and became a family keepsake.

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Grandfather's dog tags, photos and map from WWII.


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Photo of Andy Graybeal

I've been a genealogy fan since acquiring a box of papers that my grandfather kept letters, patents and miscellaneous keepsakes. There were two of my aunts also interested in the subject, one on either side of my family, and had provided a good start in delving into the family shrub.
My grandpa, the only one I knew, was my mother's father and came from a family that embraced photography from early on. The earliest photo I have is one of his parents taken in 1848. Since then, I've made attempts to identify the people in several albums of cabinet photos and snapshots taken by my grandpa and his family. There are several hundred that date to my early years in the thirties. Unfortunately, photography as a regular part of our activities lagged for 25 years, with only occasional snapshots over that period. When I got my first 35mm camera, I started up on my own. Now, with digital cameras and phone cameras, there are more pictures than I can put to use.

Since I do have Photoshop skills and have connected with distant cousins with images, I have acquired even more images-oil portraits of family patriarchs going back to the 18th and early 19th centuries, not to mention the snapshot albums that these cousins have dug up and scanned.

I've tried a couple of approaches to making our family history accessible to anyone interested, simplifying and concentrating the information to limited genealogical lines. As a designer, I found myself perhaps overdoing things graphically and making each page too labor intensive and perhaps not informative enough. There are applications that I've explored, scrapbooking and one that is available for Macs called "Pages" which might be better-certainly easier for my floundering brain than "InDesign". Genealogy apps seem to be better suited to documents and lists than for organizing images.

The image shown in your example intrigue me in that the history of a family is seen in a single image, making it easy to see where the author comes from and easy to show others in a way that doesn't bore them.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Awesome to hear that this will inspire your awesome endeavours, Andy. And what a great share, Peggy. It's amazing how pursuing this kind of stuff can bring families closer together.

Photo of Peggy Hartzell

One of my inspirations for inter generational montage imagery is Stephen Marc and his work on the Underground Railroad.I usually start with scanned photographs as well as textures, handwriting,family artifacts to be combined intuitively later in the final composition. It's good to approach with a playful open ended attitude. Next create a big "canvas" in photoshop, gather the images together and start playing. Resize,duplicate,and combine the layers to tell your story. One person put four generations of women together on the steps of an ancestor's log cabin.You can also look at Jessica Hines work "My Brother's War" For some wonderful ways to combine time and space.
I do have a power point piece on some other ideas that I can post . Blurb books are another place you can collaborate with family members who live in different parts of the country to make a family history book. The software is free too. Enjoy!