Simple & Meaningful Photo Gift in Three Steps

The idea for these simple & meaningful photo gifts began when I saw the way @amandajanejones used family photos at her Thanksgiving table this year. I printed a few for that purpose, but then a few turned into several, and what started as table settings became collections for both grandparents and the three aunts as a way to thank them for their huge love this year. I enjoyed watching their faces as they unwrapped the string and discovered the contents within — their beloved babies, my kids.

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My process here used both Photoshop and a paper trimmer, but a straightforward method is printing through Artifact Uprising instead, who offers both a standard border and the 3x25.4x25 size. The reason I opted for typical photo paper here was because my local Walmart just installed Fujifilm instant print kiosks whose quality is surprisingly stellar! I wanted these photos to have a specific look (some are 35mm, some digital) reminiscent of the tones found in my Dad's photo box. I thought family members could hang some at work, some on the fridge, put some in frames or like Grammy said: carry them around with her wherever she goes. 

Simple & meaningful photo gift in three steps:

Step 1. Print photos in monochrome with white border

Step 2. Stuff into string enclosure envelope with a note

Step 3. Date stamp front + gift 

These envelopes are made by American Crafts and can be purchased on Amazon, Hobby Lobby or similar stores.

I got my date stamp from Amazon and really, if you don't have one -- now is the time. It's just a thrill everyone needs in their life: date-stamping envelopes, letters, photographs, the kids' art, etc.! If you decide to make a gift like this, I would love to see! Shoot me an e-mail or DM. Check out the video below to see the photos I used.

Happy memory-making, picture-taking and photograph-making, my friends.

Anastasia

 

 

Dad's Photo Box

As a girl I discovered these photographs in a box. Because I was born when my dad was 45, he had lived an entire life before my sister and I came along. Dad on a cruise, Dad at a wedding, Dad in front of the White House. Dancing! Playing the guitar! Pointing a gun! Standing in front of house number 18. Holding them in my hands, I had access to the thing I had always wanted: his story. It was at that point that two things became inseparably wed in my psyche: the tactile, papery sensation of a photograph and the thrill of knowing another. 

He was born in 1940's Greece in a village that culturally operated more like 1840 according to my mom. My Dad is not macho per se but rather is full of machismo: excessive masculine pride. The male connection is the only legitimate connection. When I asked him a few years ago whether he would ever get married again he said, "Woman? Pain ass!" Pretty much sums it up.

His connection to my sister and I is strong and deep but non-verbal. He knows the concrete details of our lives (where we work, how much we make) and has faithfully, generously thrown money in our direction for our entire lives. He yell-demands that we take his entire plate if we ask for a bite of what he's eating and will. not. back. down. He came to my soccer games as a girl and stood with hands behind his back. We used to sit on his couch (my parents divorced when I was 2) and watch Greek soccer and Maury. He would take us to Sports World, an indoor arcade and fall asleep behind reading the Greek newspaper. We would wake him up by going on either side of his ears, counting to 3 and yelling, "DADDY!!!" and laugh until we cried. 

My attempts to know his history are always, without doubt, waved away in signature form: an angry face but a gentle heart. When my husband sits with him in the front seat, he gets stories about escapades in Australia, military formation, his first job. I am allowed to listen but asking questions of my own is a dead end. Sometimes I can catch him in a mood, usually when I lay out the photographs. He'll pick one up and point at it and with a twinkle in his eye say something like, "These ones! This was a good dog!" like I deeply disagree and he's convincing me. 

As a girl he took polaroids of Mia and I, usually standing in front of his car and always at a diner. I loved that camera and have been entranced with the instant medium since. But the attention! A picture of us, his girls! It made me feel cherished. I would hold my hands nervously and eak out a small smile while my sister would beam and dance and stick out her tongue and act like a monkey until I smiled a real smile. And he would pull the trigger. 

I have heard it said that talent is irrepressible; at the intersection of interest and ability is the thing you can't not do. I can't stop making photographs because of my interest in what they represent: identity, persona, family, place, time, style, nostalgia, memories made and intentionally remembered. The personal story. And because of my history with the photographs below. The feeling I got to know something about him, to see his joy, to be allowed in the narrative just a little bit. 

From Mind to Form: Making Memories Tangible

This year we took our first vacation as a family of four to California. An overall success! Despite a few serious hiccups. I find travel with kids to be like everything with kids: infinitely harder and infinitely better. Can you relate? I grew up going to the beaches of New Jersey, so giving my girls some memories in the sand each year is a definite goal. Faithful Matt lugged my backpack around... five cameras and a bunch of silvery, wonderful polaroid packs later... I happily present the results. I purchased this box at the gift shop of The Huntington, which is one of my easy travel traditions. Buy box, put trip stuff in box. It keeps the spirit of memory-keeping on my heart as we travel and inspires me to keep creating even if inconvenient.

Thoughts on Form

My creative process usually begins with a discontent with form. Something about the medium I'm using doesn't allow the voice of The Thing to emerge. I felt this way about painting with acrylic until I discovered oils. Messy! Movable! Thick dollops of black, mistake-proof. Freedom. 

With photography I became disenchanted with digital a few years deep into a business that I hated. Is this a service merely? Am I being hired to achieve a result or tell a story? That was almost ten years ago. Now-a-days I joyfully admit to being center-wave in this tide of creatives returning to antiquated mediums. The physicality and irreversability of instant film was a breakthrough. YES. 

My paper prints allow me to use the best about digital - the ability to take a bajillion photos during a shoot - and keep the romance of film. I like to insist on this designation of myself: photograph maker. Meaning my aim for all images is that their eventual end would be in print. As a writer I likewise favor the physical - taking field notes and reporting back vs. creating fictional worlds.

My desire with Instagram-as-microblog is to document that process - the process of physical art-making. Sharing perfected (nothing wrong with perfect, you know I love you, perfect, you're my friend) IMAGES of humans without story feels exploitive for me. Another beeeeautiful family or couple or wedding. Eye roll. I realize this is revelatory of my general cynicism and creative superiority but there it is. Images feel like commercials to me; selling the same old lie I fall for every single day when I scroll Instagram and feel inferior. The lie that says when I have ______ like this person, I will be whole. I feel conflicted about contributing fodder to this aptly-named "feed", even if they're good. 

So! One solution? Story + embodiment. The paper trail of our lives that explains our values and choices. The shaping forces. The trauma, the legitimate triumphs, the things-still-in-progress that should be more established but just aren't yet. Not that physical photographs tell this story always, but in a way distinct from digital I feel they testify to it's presence. That we are time-bound human lives in process. And that is the master I seek to serve creatively: all hail process. 

I've been thinking about ways to share my photos that are not an infinite scroll of digital images. How to incorporate polaroids? How to show the texture of these living rectangular memories? I've landed on stop motion for prints and I think it suits it well. Enjoy!

Super 8: the medium of memory
 

It all started one Thanksgiving when my mom popped in a VHS tape saying, "I got these old home movies from my Dad!" Her father had digitized their super 8 home movies from the 60s. Watching it, I could see the thread of intention and love that connected their family before the waves of brokenness came in... before the divorce, the Vietnam war, the unspoken trauma that characterized their later years. Working in the medium of the family story my intention is to specifically not idealize relationships ie. make commercials for perfect happiness.

In my experience film testifies to this: despite the darkness of life there is light undeniable. There is love and connection. They did visit the Grand Canyon as a young family of six, the girls in bob-haircuts and the boys in shorter than short shorts. They had Christmases and they were good. There were presents hard-won and unwrapped with joy. There was a kiss between my mother's parents, at that time high school sweethearts who were trying. I find that inspiring.

So when we decided to take our trip I knew I wanted to revisit the medium I had come to associate with family memories. Super 8 film. Film in general hits me in the gut every single time and I typically observe the same reaction in others. It's permanence, tangibility, nostalgia all allow it to capture the visceral nature of memory. It looks like how we feel when we remember: sun-drenched and hazy; clips instead of long, hard days. Joy.

I am please to now offer super 8 films with my family archival packages and look forward to building up my portfolio and sharing in the furtherance of this charming, romantic medium that speaks so deeply to me.

Polaroids: Reflections

I took two polaroid cameras with us, the Instax Mini and Instax Wide. I'm in the process of purchasing an SX-70 and wasn't going to lug the land camera around in addition to the excessively heavy metal-body super 8. I favor the mini absolutely, in color quality, ease-of-use and because you have the only necessary function (in my opinion, but I'm right) on a point-and-shoot: flash control. I love these babies for what they give me: they capture the loveliness of the scene. But I long for the control a 600SE or 195 land camera would give me. Alas, funds. In time! 

Photo Notes: The Original Caption

One of my favorite things about old photographs is the notes on the back: Mary, age 4. Jack at the lake. Santa Monica, 1974. My mom the optimist and general happy-person used to include lots of exclamations and proclamations which I see emerging when I took up the mantle with these. Vivian, lover of strawberry ice cream cones! Whenever I find a note or photo from my Oma who is now passed, seeing her 40's-style cursive with it's sharp peaks brings me back to her in a way that nothing else can. Hopefully these prints will be the same for my girls one day.

Duplexity: Creativity and Mothering

Duplexity: (of a machine) having two identical working units, operating together or independently, in a single framework or assembly.

I feel this in myself. Though the units are identical, they produce different ends. Both require my whole being: mind, heart and hands. Creativity and mothering. Perceiving: a quiet and receptive act. Nurturing: a communicative process in the form of output. I fought laziness and idealism this trip when I wanted the creative process and mothering to co-exist peacefully and in complete obedience, thankyouverymuch. They don't. They can't. There is no philosophical tension whatsoever, but practical. I am one woman with one lens with which to focus. As much as I would like to shoot wide open (photo lingo) and zoom fully into the subjects that interest me, in this season of mothering wee ones I am forced to pan out and keep it all in sharp detail. Exhausting, new and therefore uncomfortable, but worth the discomfort in both arenas. Often I feel I am doing both areas in mediocre-ly by not devoting myself whole-heartedly to either. But my conviction that doing so would annihilate me keeps me from diving all in to the exclusion of the other. 

And so this is me right now: a mother cutting grapes in two while rationally explaining why we can't sing Jingle Bells at the top of our longs over and over and over in June; also while unconsciously and irresistibly writing in mind about covenant and essence and place and other things that call me to them like a whispering adulterer. Does this sound grim? It's not yet settled. Take heart, dear soul. Process, right?

 

details

Digital images taken on 5D Mark II and printed by Artifact Uprising on 5 x 3.5 paper
Polaroids on Instax Wide and Instax Mini film
Super 8 shot on a Canon 518 with Pro 08-13 film, processed and digitized by Pro8mm
Super 8 song: We Will Say in That Day (Isaiah 12) by Wendell Kimbrough
Paper prints song: Sewee Sewee by Mountain Man