VISUAL STORYTELLING - A TRADITION
My grandmother was one of the original “scrapbookers.” Her creations even garnered her a few medals at the State Fair. Juanita Burns’ system for scrap-booking was elaborate and organized. A skill that I did not inherit, but my mother did, and don’t you think she doesn’t remind me of it every chance she gets. But I digress. Back in the 1980’s there were not stores and sections in the Ben Franklin’s that were dedicated to this past-time, at least nothing like the industry puts forward now. My Grandmother snipped images from magazines and clipped text from newspapers. She saved cards with adorable bears and bunnies on the covers. She would even save comics that she thought were particularly relevant to the grandchild that she was immortalizing in a scrapbook. The core of her system was a catalog. One file for every imaginable need and theme: Christmas, Thanksgiving, diapers, first bra… it was thorough, it was alphabetized, and it was glorious. Every step of the process was precious. It was clear that she took the mission of telling her family’s story, very, very seriously. She really put her heart into it.
It wasn’t until recently that I really understood the influence my Grandmother Juanita had on me in terms of my love for the concept of family and the power of legacy. She let the photos guide her in how to tell the story. She added her own embellishments, titles, and glitter, but like all scrapbooks, the photographs were the plot points in an unfolding story. This shared tradition of honoring someone’s history didn’t really occur to me until I started working on and Heirloom Film for my other Grandmother on my paternal side, Clarice Mae LeMay.
I make all sorts of films for every stage of a family’s existence: birth, toddlerdom, graduations, weddings, and beyond. But the most satisfying projects for me are the one’s that dive into someone’s history. I learned long ago, that asking someone to “tell me your story,” doesn’t work. You need a trigger. You need a reminder. You need photographs and mementos.
Last June, I decided that I really needed to take my own advice and sit my Grandmother of nearly 88 years down and get her history. I had inherited her mother’s scrapbook, and I had it in my possession for several years, so when I laid out the photographs on the table and turned the camera on, she said, “These are my mother’s pictures. Where they came from I don’t know.” And with this statement, I was worried that I had waited too long. That the stories might be lost, that she might not remember; but, with every image she picked up, another memory floated to the surface. Later, when I was able to begin the process of putting together her film, I realized that the process itself was like creating pages in a scrapbook. Pages that spoke in the voice of my Grandmother. How lucky am I?
At the end of my recording session with my Grandmother Clarice, my own daughter, Ruby, came to sit down and asked her some questions of her own. “What kind of toys did you have?” she asked. And I marveled that my Grandmother and my daughter were able to swap stories across time and generations, person to person.
Sadly, my Grandmother Juanita passed away shortly after I had Ruby, and so the opportunity for Ruby to hear that side of the family’s stories, straight from the matriarch herself, are lost. I do feel eternally grateful that Ruby spent a few short moments in the arms of a woman that loved children more deeply than anyone I have ever met, but that feeling is always followed by a bit of sadness that Ruby will never know what it is like to crack open a scrapbook, made special for her, by one Juanita Burns. Bless her little heart.
My favorite photo of my Grandma Clarice My favorite photo of my Grandma Juanita (I love it so much)