On January 3rd, just a toe step into 2017, the New York Times Magazine ran an article by the English writer Geoff Dyer entitled, “The Mysteries of Our Family Snapshots.” The article was illustrated with a red, blue, and green-popping 1960s family photo. Mr. Dyer caught my attention with this sentence:
When my dad died five months later, I became both the only surviving person from the picture and the only person who might know anything about it.
He described precisely the predicament that spurs so many people to knock on StoryKeep’s door.
In that moment, I recalled sitting in a kitchen with a woman during our first client visit, and she blurted out, “I seriously have trouble sleeping at night, Jamie. I know it’s crazy, but I wake up thinking about these dusty boxes of photos. I’m the only one who knows anything about them.”
I’ve often wondered how it can be possible for something so amateur as a family snapshot to be so powerful. Take a look at some of your family photos – but not the professional ones in shiny frames. Root around for a shoebox filled with photos. Pull a few from the top. You’ll notice that they contain objects (your orange/brown sweater from high school), places (the pink dining room!) and moments (your fifth birthday party) so important to your inner being that merely looking at them stops time.
Dyer writes about his mom’s gesture in the photo: “My mum is covering up her right wrist with her left hand to hide a birthmark. She always did that. That gesture defined her.”
I believe it is the lack of curation, the relatively haphazard “snap,” of our family snapshots that provides some answers to our personal mysteries. In them, we see furniture, toys, old TV sets that were around in our childhood homes, people who stopped by, our parents and siblings in their “natural states.” This is why I adore family snapshots, why I take pleasure in weaving them into a family’s film. They remind you of what you forgot.
Adding these quiet mysteries of family photos to a professional film…oh, bless me. That’s like mixing and matching a sharp fashion piece with a vintage item. Such an outfit shows your personal style. It’s like serving a perfect martini alongside a stack of Triscuits. That’s just fun. That’s something you can dig into.
As we age, we appreciate family photos in new ways. Dyer notes what the poet George Oppen once said about aging: “What a strange thing to happen to a little boy.”
As you move into another year, your family photos will come with you. How can you expand and pass on their meaning?
People ask me all the time, “How did you come up with the idea for StoryKeep?”.
They usually lean in and repeat it as a question.
Lou Zandoli is an ornery guy. His parents were from Italy. When he finds himself at his son and daughter-in-law’s house in Brooklyn, New York, he peels cups and cups of fresh garlic and puts the unclothed cloves in Ball jars that he stashes in their freezer. He’s got a gold grill (yes, a teeth grill!). And he is the man who changed everything for me.
When I met Lou, I had gone to school at the Salt Institute for documentary radio production (think This American Life, Studio 360, human interest stories). Following that, I had landed a much envied internship at WNYC, an NPR affiliate in New York City. I was later hired as an Assistant Producer. But, after spending obscene amounts of money on radio school and supporting a radio career dream, I realized I was unhappy. The whole radio station, journalism thing wasn’t doing it for me.
Around that time, a dear friend of mine named Nicole and I went out for lunch. Afterward, as I was pulling over to drop her at her door, she asked me whether I would entertain the idea of recording her father-in-law’s life story, Lou’s story. She wanted to capture his fascinating history so her children could appreciate what he had lived through and done with his life. “He’s got a memory like a steel-trap,” she said.
The idea felt like warm jelly in my chest.
We came to a mutual sum. I started within a week’s time.
I conducted nine or ten interviews with Lou. He told me about the Depression. He told me about his childhood in Queens, New York. He told me about his military career. He told me grand tales about the Mohawks Athletic Club. He recalled his two children’s births, and later on, his present work in China.
I think it was the third recording session when it hit me. Something called out to me.
“This is your life’s work.”
It was the telling, the listening, the collecting, the archiving, the sharing, the heirloom-making. It all made sense to me, and everything in my body said, “Now is the time.”
That was in March of 2010. By April of 2011, I had founded StoryKeep.
That is the story of StoryKeep. At least the beginning.
StoryKeep’s Chris Cory talks shop about 2.5d photo editing in this issue of Shop Talk.
Here at StoryKeep we have the privilege of working with amazing family stories and very often the incredible pictures that go along with them. When we start to piece together the photographic history of a particular family, and incorporate their photos into their film, emotions from years past come to life.
Although filmmakers have been combining still photography with film for quite some time, there has been a recent explosion of new techniques for applying motion to still photography. One of the effects that we are particularly fond of is called the 2.5d or parallax effect. You’ve probably seen it put to use but didn’t quite know whether you were watching a slow motion video or an animated picture. Some photos are immensely beautiful and interesting when affected in this way. A perfect example is Lou Zandoli’s story about the Mohawks Athletic Club.
Popularized by the film, “The Kid Stays in the Picture,” 2.5d has become a widely used technique for breathing life and motion into still photographs. When used effectively, 2.5d can turn a still photo into a multidimensional moving piece that brings the viewer into the photographic space. This effect can work especially well with older black and white photos, lending a contemporary sense of movement in combination with a nostalgic aesthetic.
Even after seeing hundreds of 2.5d images I find myself sometimes wondering if I am watching old footage in slow motion or an animated still photograph. In the public celebration scene you see above (to get the true effect, watch the video), it’s especially effective because there is a great deal of space to work with within the photograph and applying the 2.5d effect helps to magnify that sense of space and motion. The movement in the scene brings in just enough visual stimulation to keep the viewer from reflecting on the fact that they are seeing a picture. This gets to the core of what is an effective use of 2.5d? going beyond being just an effect and allowing a story to shine through the visual space the moving picture opens up. Take a look at some more impressive and colorful applications of motion to photographs using 2.5d.
StoryKeep is always looking for interesting ways to incorporate still images, and the 2.5d effect is just one of our favorites. We use these techniques not only as a way to spice up old family photos, but in order to carry on family legacies through film in a way that brings our families closer to their own stories and memories.
What photo in your collection could POP! using 2.5d effects?