Use Photos to Jog Your Memory

Post by Virginia Allain: Next week, I’m teaching a series of classes on memoir writing. Here’s some of the advice I’ll give the participants:

Trigger Your Memories with Old Photos

Get out your old photos to serve as memory joggers in writing your memoir. Look at them, really look at them. Probably you’ve seen these photos dozens or even a hundred times. This time you will look beyond the surface.

The technique to extract the maximum amount of information can include making lists of things you see in a photo. Here would be my list: dark car, gravel driveway, light colored house with a porch, 4 curly-haired girls in shorts/pedal pushers.

The next step would be to use those clues to set the time. In this case, by estimating the ages of my sisters, remembering the time I got glasses, and when we lived in town, gives me the likely date.

sisters March 59

Martin kids – Ginger, Cindy, Susan & Karen in summertime

An Analysis of the Photo Shown Above

In this line-up, I see myself and three of my sisters. I’m guessing it is around 1960 before our youngest sister was born. The house must be the one on Carr Street where we lived when I was in 4th and 5th grade. We are barefooted, so it must be summer and we are probably at home. If we were visiting someone, we’d have shoes on.

I could ask a car buff about the car, as I don’t recognize it. Perhaps it belonged to a visitor and the occasion of their visit is the reason we’re getting photographed.

I can’t deduce much from our expressions. We’re looking into the sun and that’s causing us to look down or squint or close our eyes. No sunglasses back in those days.

I’m surprised by all the curly hair. Maybe Mom had tried out some home perm kits. I started wearing glasses in the 4th grade. I wonder when the two younger girls got their first glasses?

Look at those tans! That’s from lots of playing outside. I’m the pale one, probably because I spent hours reading.

This was a rental house and too small for our family of 7, soon to be 8. After that, we moved to the country, to a 4-bedroom farmhouse.

Clyde Martin family on carr street, El Dorado, KS

The Martin family. Clyde holding Karen, Gail, Owen, Cindy, Ginger, and Susan. We all look a little younger in this photo but it is the same house.

 Making Use of Your Discoveries about the Pictures

OK, I’ve deduced quite a bit from the first photo. I’ve written a sentence or two about the elements in the photo. The next step would be to rearrange those into more of a narrative describing my feelings about that time in my life.

After examining the details, tune into the feelings evoked by the picture. How happy were you at that time in life? How did the siblings get along? Tell about a typical day at that time in your life.

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