Some tragic experiences will never reach us and will remain unspoken, buried. We will never be able to witness their existence, but only presume that they are there, yet missing.
The Save Your Photos Alliance has launched an annual Save Your Photo Day on September 25; A day that launches a series of talks, activities and workshops prepared by photo caretakers to raise awareness about the importance of safeguarding your photos and treasured memorabilia before disaster or accidents occur. This is an event addressed to those who appreciate that every life is a story worth preserving and sharing.
At forget-me-not, we are committed on this occasion to contribute to this awareness campaign. To celebrate the Save Your Photo Day, we’re sharing a Story of Loss. Maha generously shared with us her experience of loss and photographs. We hope, through this story, to deliver a message on the importance of photos, their role as witness to everyday memories of everyday people and the historical importance of collecting and preserving those memories, those stories, which will otherwise disappear forever.
Fouad and Siham got married in 1960. “My father is from Hadath,” his daughter Maha explains to us, “so all of my aunts and uncles were living in that neighborhood. He was a civil engineer and decided to build his house from the ground up in this same area”.
The newlyweds moved into their new home a few months after their wedding. Siham was a natural born decorator and with the help of her husband, she decorated every single room in this house with love and attention. “Each object in the house was specifically chosen to serve its purpose and had its own story,” Maha says, “they used to save money in order to buy antique objects, furniture, and art pieces. When a couple starts their married life together, they pour all of their heart into the very foundation of the first house they live in”.
The house witnessed the happiest times of this young couple's lives. Their three children were born there: Nadia in 1961, Adel in 1962 and Maha in 1971. They took their first steps there and enjoyed the simple pleasures of childhood surrounded by their loved ones.
Until the civil war started in 1975.
Not much was salvaged.
"My parents didn't really believe that they could actually lose their house, so they barely managed to save a few things". Maha was only five years old when this tragedy happened, yet she remembers how important this house had been for her parents and how happy they had been there.
It was years after the blow that her parents realized that they had lost all their photographs during that tragic misfortune. “They had lost their house and that was the biggest loss,” Maha says, “The realization of having lost their photographs only came later when they would be looking at photos and suddenly notice that there was a long period in their life that was left undocumented.”
Maha recalls her mother repetitively saying to her friends: “We have no photos left from those blissful fifteen years.”
Luckily, Maha’s mother had created a photo album of her wedding day that she gifted to her own parents. One day, Maha’s grandmother came to Siham with this photo album and told her: “You gave me this gift to remember your wedding day, but now that you’ve lost all of your photos, this is all you have left. I give it back to you.” This photo album, along with an old Kodak box containing a few snapshots, were the only memories left from 1960 to 1975.
In 1997, Maha took the initiative to start gathering all the family pictures in order to consolidate the collection and start organizing it. She classified them into time periods and labeled each package thoroughly. Clearly, the loss of her parents’ family photos had made her aware of the importance of safeguarding all the images that were created later on. "We'd always hear stories and anecdotes from our parents' early years of marriage, but never reached out for a picture to show. Something was missing in the family history.”
Later, in 2009, Maha started the strenuous process of scanning every picture. When looking at the timeline she tells us, there is clearly a huge gap between 1960 and 1975 and it is impossible to fill. "I look at my parents' photos and I try to understand: who were these people? You wonder what they were thinking about when they had those pictures taken. You try to catch a glimpse of yourself in them because you’re about the same age they were in those photos.
“I remember my mother well from 1976 and onward and a lot of the pictures I have of her are photos I’d taken of her while growing up. But I keep asking myself how did she get to become who she was? What was she like when she was younger, still a newlywed and a young mother?"
We pause for a moment while Maha emotionally remembers her mother and their shared memories.
Memories are tricky. When history escapes us, only fragments remain: words and images. But what do we do when there is no tangible proof, no pictures to show? As we grow older, we look back at our lives and our parents’ lives and we wonder if our parents went through the same things we are going through when they were our age. Sometimes looking at pictures of them during that period can help us create the answers, but when those photos don’t exist, we could be at a loss somehow.
One day a friend of Maha’s tagged her in a picture on Facebook. It was a photo of her mum and a friend of hers taken in the 1960s which an antique shop in Beirut had posted on their Facebook Page. Apparently the antique shop had received a box of old photos from an undisclosed source. Maha, for the first time, caught a glimpse of her mother from that period of time.
“I, personally, get really attached to photos. For my father, the biggest loss he suffered from the war, besides the house, was his books. But for my mother and me, it was the photos.”
Today, Maha knows that her photos are properly archived; she’s started the scanning process and has multiple backups of her current digital photos. But she still wonders, if war were to break out tomorrow, will photos be the first thing she saves?
When disaster strikes at home, our survival instincts prevail. We know we have to leave, so we pack up a few things: money, jewelry, passports, perhaps a couple of valuable items. We don’t think about photos yet when the storm is over we realize we’ve lost the most valuable possession we had; one that holds our memories, our stories, and our family history.
Lebanon’s civil war might be long gone, but if history taught us anything, a disaster is never too far from us. Take action today and let forget-me-not help you safeguard your photo collections.
*Thank you to Bastille for inspiring us the title of this Blog Post. Listen to their song “Things we lost in the fire”