The Story as Told by Photos

A colleague friend just posted on my Facebook page that she would love to revisit all the photos I’ve taken through my years at school. I’ve started to try and organize them all but there are so many it’s a gargantuan and somewhat overwhelming task. I don’t have to finish this by June, 2011, though; I could work on it in the “after years.” But then once they are organized, what should I do with them?

I don’t have a lot of photos of my early years at HCS: 1992 up to about 2001 (I got my first digital camera in 2001) but there are even some keepers among the prints I have in a box, and I’m pretty sure I have at least most of the negatives in a different box. One of my favorites is a group shot of my TAG (homeroom) the time they all got dressed up and came to my house for dinner; I like that one because one of those kids is now a teacher in our school. There are a few others — like one young man launching a social studies project that involved smoke bombs; our class had gone outside to the courtyard to see the grand production. That student died a number of years later.

And so go the memories; do they go with me?

I have hundreds of digital photos given to me by our former enrichment teacher; these represent the many Artist in Residencies for which our school has become well known and respected across the State of New Hampshire. In addition, I have digital photos of two of the “Seventh Grade Excellent Adventure” projects created by social studies faculty in 2003 and 2005; those were given to me by another teacher now retired. I seem to be the unofficial keeper of the photos.

I have accompanied fifteen groups of eighth graders to Washington, DC, and I don’t even know how many photos of all those trips I have. Many are recorded on film, and I have over a thousand digital pictures just of those trips.

The Civil Rights Memorial, in Montgomery, Alabama, was designed by Maya Lin, who also designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

I also have many photos that I’ve taken on many trips across the US; I love visiting those places that we teach about so that I can show my students what these sites actually look like. For example, when I taught about the civil rights movement in social studies, I used my photos of Alabama’s  Civil Rights Memorial as the starting place. This memorial has the names of forty people who died in the struggle for equal rights, and I know that my personal experience with the memorial made it a more personal experience for my students.

The diamonds among all these gems, though, are the official group photos of every class that went on that trip to Washington, DC. I have scanned and digitized them all; the first trip was in 1990, and last year, 2010, marked the second generation when a young lady made the trip whose mother was part of the first group. I think those photos in particular are valuable. They not only comprise a historical record of a major part of the Henniker school experience for our graduating eighth graders, but they also tell stories. The photos are professionally taken, and all are in eactly the same place: on the steps of the Grant Memorial in front of the US Capitol building. Some years the big ole tree in the background is fully leafed out; some years there’s hardly a bud to be seen. Likewise, some years the group is wearing shorts and tshirts, and some years it’s long pants and sweatshirts. Hair styles and even clothing styles are also telling of the fashions of the times; in two decades, much is different from first to last. Class sizes, too, reveal the waxing and waning of our school population. Chaperones, another story: the first years show four adults went along for the ride. One year, we needed ten! Now we’re back to four again.

Of course, there are stories behind the photos; the first years of the trip, we’d have one afternoon for all the Smithsonian museums. The bus would drop us off at the Air and Space Museum at 11:00, and we’d say to the kids, “OK, now stay with friends, and make sure to be at the Museum of American History at 4:00 to meet us for the bus and we’ll go back to the hotel.” We would actually allow them to roam the half-mile long mall and museum area without chaperone contact for five whole hours! It seems stunningly inappropriate now to look back on those times, but it wasn’t unreasonable then and there was never an issue with anyone getting lost or in trouble. The September 11 tragedy changed the shape of the trip in major ways; that’s when we became acutely aware of the scary possibilities and kept our kids close to us at all times. But parent support of the trip even in the 2001-2002 school year made it crystal clear that this experience for our eighth grade students was a rite of passage that must be honored.

Up until 2003, the group photos were all black & white; the special camera actually moves to create the panoramic effect. This is my son's photo.

I’ve started to attempt to label those historical photos with the names of each person in each photo. It’s not an easy task, needless to say, but I’ve had enthusiastic assistance from students. Once the photos were scanned, I emailed the file to students I’m still in contact with and have been pleased that they’ve got most of the names right. I can remember many if not most, too, but there were three groups who preceeded my time at the school. One was my older son’s class, so I’ve got most of the names in that group. It will definitely be a challenge to get the information compiled.

I hope I’m not the only one who cares about recording this history.

And I don’t know what to do with the photos once the project is done.

And I don’t know what to do with all my other photos. The school has not established a system for recording this kind of history. There are two trohpy cases, jammed with plaques and cups recording winning sports teams. In 1996 when the school underwent a major renovation and the two separate buildings were joined together into one community school, some of the faculty created a massive photo album/srapbook that recorded all the chaos and classroom shifts of that amazing and difficult year, but it seems to have been lost!

I feel sad that these photos and historical records may go the same way of that scrapbook.

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About harleywoman50

I retired from teaching in June 2011, and now am enjoying the good things I never had time to do before: traveling, writing, and creative arts. I also work as an educational consultant specializing in professional development for teachers; in this capacity I teach educators about their personalities using the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Instrument). I teach a course on how to differentiate instruction using type in the classroom, and several other workshops. Life is good.
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2 Responses to The Story as Told by Photos

  1. G says:

    When I was in 8th grade we had to go to the basement of the public library and research something local. We were digging through that weird archive stuff, and ironically enough, it was the just about the closest I got to graduate level research in all my schooling, including in some respects my graduate school. We were digging through some primary resources and at least out-of-print old stuff for secondary resources.

    So you ask, “And I don’t know what to do with the photos once the project is done,” and I’m tempted to say, why not ask your students what to do and then challenge them to do it? How would they want to be remembered? How would they want the info about them to be accessible to their children? They could start working on it for students of the past. It could be awfully fun.

  2. I like that idea, G — thanks! We also have an official historical society in town now, too, so that’s a possibility as well.

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