How to create an heirloom with photographs
Probably around the age I learned to talk, my grandpa began a tradition of walking me over to their antique sideboard and pointing to a black and white photo. In the photo, two young, happy people sat at a restaurant table. “Do you know who that beautiful woman is?” He would always answer for me, “that is your grandmother. Isn’t she magnificent? That was the night I proposed to her.”
This is my grandparents’ engagement photo and my favorite piece of their legacy. To this day when I visit, my grandpa walks me over to this photo and tells me about how he fell in love with my grandma. I keep a framed print of it on my desk because I love being reminded of their story.
The photo of my grandparents continually inspires me to give my whole heart to my clients as I help them create legacies of their own. I think about their grandchildren someday treasuring those photos as heirlooms and part of their own origin story. This is why I love making albums for my clients.
To make an heirloom, tell a story using a meaningful object
Merriam-Webster dictionary describes an heirloom as “something of special value that gets handed down from one generation to another.” It doesn’t matter if that object’s value is purely sentimental or if it is worth money. The point of an heirloom is that it carries memories and stories about a person or a particular time. A photograph is arguably the easiest thing a person can turn into an heirloom, so I’m going to write about how images can carry important memories and stories for generations to come.
1. Choose a meaningful photo
Have you ever looked at a particular photo that helped you remember EXACTLY how you felt to be a certain age, at an important event, or with a special person? Sometimes they aren’t technically the best photos, but they carry the most meaning for you. Choose a photo that tells a story about something meaningful to you. Think about the people who are important to you, the milestones in your life, or the times your family had a memorable holiday gathering.
There is exactly one image of my entire nuclear family together in one portrait. Our family is big and has had its share of tough relationship issues, so that photo could be the last one we ever take with everyone present. The photo was taken on a family vacation after I graduated from high school. It’s nothing special at a glance, but it reminds me of a really good moment in our family’s timeline. The photo allows me to tell a bigger story about my family.
2. Make a tangible photograph
Make a real, tangible print of a meaningful photo. Hardly anyone makes prints of their photos anymore, but it’s easier now than ever. I love to order from Bay Photo and Artifact Uprising because they make great quality products. Both labs also have lots of options for different styles, sizes, papers and even albums. Bay Photo even offers wood and metal prints! (They aren’t paying me to say this, btw.)
Make sure your printed photographs are made with archival materials. Many inks, papers and adhesives are bound to fade, yellow and fall apart within a few years or 1-2 decades at best. Heirlooms need to last generations, so quality is very important. You’ll have better luck getting good quality materials if you order from a professional lab instead of a consumer lab. Bay Photo is a professional lab. Walgreens and Costco are consumer labs- not professional ones. High quality prints aren’t necessarily expensive. You can get a great small print for less than a dollar, or you can spend more on fine art prints.
3. Create a display for your photograph
A locket. An album. A handmade box. A charm. A simple frame. Keep it on the smaller side so that it can be easily stored without burden. The display doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive.
Ever since I began making prints of my own photos and displaying them in frames and albums, I started to feel a lot more connected to my memories, my loved ones and the importance of prioritizing them in my life. I put up photos around my kitchen and my desk so that I see them every day when I make coffee and sit down to work. I like to flip through my albums and reminisce about what has been most memorable in my life. When visitors come over, I get to tell them about the people I love most in my life when they point and ask about certain photos. Those little in-between moments when I stop and look at those photos– those are tiny moments of joy that make my day-to-day unquestionably better.
4. Create a ritual
This is the most important part. My grandparents’ engagement photo wouldn’t mean as much to me if my grandpa never used it to tell me stories about their lives when I went to their house as a kid. Not only can I use the photo to tell those same stories some day to my grandkids, but I now have my own story about those memories with my grandpa.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t have offspring to tell stories too; share them with your siblings, parents and friends. Make a ritual out of it. Hang the photo somewhere you will see it every day, or make a point to bring it out on certain occasions. Your heirloom isn’t just about the recipient. It’s about preserving stories you want to remember.
5. Coming up in a future post: Create a time capsule
I’m going to write about creating time capsules using different creative methods. Memories are so much bigger than images and stories. Our memories are triggered by scent, sound and taste, too. Stay tuned for the post!
You may also like this post on planning a meaningful wedding
or another post from my “advice” section