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Old Photos Without Stories, Have Very Little Meaning

Judy Weiser is a Psychologist, Art Therapist, consultant, trainer, University Adjunct Faculty, international lecturer, and author—and one of the earliest pioneers of PhotoTherapy, Therapeutic Photography, Photo-Art-Therapy, VideoTherapy, and other related techniques. Founder and Director of the PhotoTherapy Centre in Vancouver, Canada, she is considered the world authority on the emotional significance of personal photographs.


Old Photos Without Stories, Have Very Little Meaning

by Judy Weiser

When I moved to Canada, I found a bunch of old photos in the attic of the home I moved into. I had no idea who these people were. The people were on a ship and had on old European, ruffled cloth- ing. Someone had kept these photos and treasured them. Through the photos, they explained who they are, where they came from, what the family had survived over time, how that family came to be, why that family is the way that it is. They are that family’s story. The photos by themselves are not the story—you need a storyteller.

Throughout my life, people took pictures. The pictures got stuffed into albums. The album is the view of your family through the eyes and mind and feelings of the person who makes the album. You are looking at your family, perhaps not as it actually was, but as it was viewed by the creator of the album.

I was an only child growing up with a nice middle-class Jewish family. My mother and I would go through the family album. I’d notice that a particular person was no longer in the album, and Mother would tell me that was because he died. There were pictures of my mother’s three brothers. Two of them were twins. Around the time they were twenty years old, there were no more pictures of one of the twins, Sam. I never ask why. I assumed he died or moved to another continent or something.

One day when I was teenager, I came home from school, and my mother said that I had to drive her to Sam’s house. I was stunned. She was horrified that I had thought Sam had died and asked why I would think that. “You never talk about him; there are no pictures in the family album after he was twenty.”

My mother thought I knew.

The family was very strict Jewish, and Sam had met and married a woman who wasn’t Jewish. “We gave him a funeral which is what Orthodox Jewish people did when somebody married outside the faith in those days. They are no longer a living person. They are not seen again, they are not talked about again, and their name is not mentioned again.”

But my mother was a good woman and she needed to tell Sam that his twin brother died.

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