Family Photos, Brains’ Connections & Figures of Speech

So… at last, it’s proven there’s some sort of correlation between what a person sees & what they say!

There’s no doubt that the images of Laurence Aëgerter are beautiful. Are they as technically as ones sees on Magnum Photography? Does it matter, the important issue is that by looking at them individually or in pairs or groups, it’s been found that speech changes (improves?) for those living with dementia… it may be a few seconds or minutes or even longer but there’s a noticeable effect.

Best of all, the publicity gained helps friends & relatives by confirming what they already knew but may not have allowed themselves to believe – images: whether simple or complex, recognisable or new to a viewer are a great way of stimulating & motivating somebody who may be sad or lonely or confused or even just wanting a change from their thoughts by looking at something new.

If that’s how it works with professionally produced images of subjects the viewer has not seen before, what effects do seeing reassuring, familiar photos have? Snaps they can talk about, incidents they can describe from their memories as well as what they can see?

Personal photo with newspaper of the time

Eyes & Ears – twice as powerful?

At Special2Us, we encourage our clients to record the voices of their friends & family in the reminiscences, looking out for clues & prompts to be used on future occasions. (Special2Us also provides an almost immediate transcript of the recording so key words & phrases can be searched at a later date)

A case in point is a gentleman of 91: an architect in the boom years of the 60s & 70s who often finds today’s news confusing and annoying and at times even completely incomprehensible. Shown a picture of an icon building or an artist or a piece of engineering, eh will be able to wax lyrical about that period in his life and describe his time at college, meeting his wife, buying his first sports car and going abroad on holiday for the first time.

The family involved have a few interesting techniques to encourage his thoughts & ease him to conversations he may not have realised he wanted to take part in. Perhaps it’s the introduction of a little mistake to encourage him to correct everybody: “this is Stan, the man you went to art school with”… “NO that’s Ken, he went to the London School of Economics whilst I went to the Architectural Association, that wasn’t ant arts school but there were some great painters and a couple of people training decided to become sculptors instead… Ken & your mother always got on well because we all went to the Proms together” (thus with one prompt half a dozen facts have been gleaned and fond memories evoked which can be used as cues on future occasions)

What’s the 1st action?

There may be a daunting pile of photographs or a thick wedge of albums – that’s too big a task to take on so why not choose ½ dozen, snap the important or interesting photos with a mobile phone & upload them: Special2Us accepts JPEGS and most other formats a camera or a phone or a scanner creates, large or small, they can all go into albums from which voices can be recorded at a click of a button.

How much & how quickly?

There are countless articles & surveys showing that in times of crisis, fire, flood or even divorce, Pets are #1 & family photos are #2 in the priorities of those interviewed as their most treasured possessions. Once your photos & mementos are digitised (scanned) & stored at Special2Us, they are safe; they can’t be soaked or burned or thrown away. Special2Us subscriptions start at £1 per week (£52 per year) and that would equate to about 1,000 album sized images (remember those wallets from the chemist with “n Prints in them along with strips of negatives?)

Special2Us has found few clients speak for more than about 5-8minutes per photograph though when the family are all together, sometimes a conversation can last about 25 minutes. Editing of the voices is not yet available but it will be a feature on offer at the next phase of development.

What else works as a stimulus or even way to create a family legacy?

Special2Us exhibited at Olympia: the venue for Ideal Home Show this spring. We met several thousand people, all of whom had powerful & emotional stories: one had scanned all their mother’s recipes & got here to commentate on how to cook her favourite dishes: immortalising the definitive Yorkshire Pudding, the perfect Chocolate Cake & the only real way to make mince interesting! Another had scanned all is train & bus tickets & passports along with the postcards he had sent home from his travels.

Our staff interviewed a group of pensioners at a knitting club in East London. For them, the programme they created was a pre-war map of their neighbourhood with all the original pubs and photographs of the football teams from that era. Canning Town & Millwall had football teams sponsored by the local factories so memorabilia as photos of grandparents & great grandparents. Local initiatives such as the Black Country’s Living Memory or London Metropolitan Archive’s Layers of London give instant access to pictures which can be interleaved with family photos.

Why not NOW?

We met a kindly and talkative visitor to our exhibition who told us that Special2Us wasn’t relevant to him – when we asked why, he explained his parents were both dead… but then admitted he had 6 children & they had only met their grandparents a few times. His refrain was “If only I’d started ages ago”… when he left, he’s turned his thinking around & decided he’s record all the memories he had of his parents for his kids… He’s also now in contact with cousins & far flung relatives who are amassing a family album of pictures of the village they all grew up in, the school reports & sports teams’ photos they have found in various friends’ attics. They are even tracking down neighbours & local shop keepers in order to create a community as well as personal albums of memories & oral history.

The rainy Saturday which has been waited for to “do” the family album may mean missing out on some voices & stories that need to be captured now … not delayed any longer… and there’s no real excuse not to do what you’ve been promising to get on with for ages is there!

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