Mystery photos
Aug. 2, 2019
by Ivan Raconteur

This week my sister was sorting some old photos. At least I assume that was what she was doing. She emailed three photos to me in which I was among the subjects, and she asked me to identify the year they were taken.

My initial inspection indicated they were taken within a span of about 12 years.

From that point, it required some detective skills to unravel the mysterious dates when the photos were taken.

One of them was relatively easy. It included a motorcycle, and I was able to deduce the year the photo was taken based on the year the bike was purchased.

The detective work got more difficult from there.

Another photo included my ex-wife and I sitting in matching lawn chairs. That alone was not enough to solve the mystery, but I remember loading those chairs into our truck when we went on vacation. I spent a lot more time packing the vehicle for vacations when I was married.

Assuming my memory is correct regarding the year of the truck, I’m reasonably sure I can guess when the photo was taken, even though the truck was not shown in the photo.

The third photo was the toughest. It shows me playing pool with some friends in a former residence. I believe these friends were living in Paris at the time, and based on the color of the walls in the billiard room at the time, I can tell it was taken within a range of years, but I can’t be more specific than that.

My friends, who now live in Florida, still look young and vital today. There is nothing else in the photo to give me any clue what specific year it was taken.

Things would be a lot simpler if we put photos in nice, neat photo albums with dates, locations, and subjects specified.

I don’t think that happens for most people, though. It certainly hasn’t worked that way in my life.

Even in photos of me when I was a kid, there is limited information. I have seen the photo albums my mother made for my older siblings. The photos were neatly stuck in albums, and many had identifying information written in.

I suspect Ma got tired of that sort of thing by the time I came along. Most of the photos weren’t fastened in the album – but just shoved in loose. Some had the date written on the back, but many didn’t.

I can’t say I have done any better with the photos I have taken.

Today, although I take more photos than I did in the past, I rarely print any, and I don’t put any in albums.

In the digital age, my best chance of identifying when a photo was taken is based on when I emailed the photo to someone, or when I posted it on social media.

It makes me wonder how people are able to identify photos that are 50 or 100 years old. They obviously have better detective skills than I have.

When my sister and I cleared out Ma’s apartment after she cashed in her chips, we found boxes for each family member containing photos that Ma had decided each of us should have.

There were also photos that none of us could identify. Some included relatives who died before we were born, or friends of my parents back when they were newlyweds – people my siblings and I don’t remember.

There is one resource I can use to help me identify how I or other family members looked over the past 36 years or so. We take a group photo every year, and early on, someone had the bright idea to include a sign bearing the year in each of them. At first, the signs were paper. In recent years, they have been written on my sister’s white board. I suppose in the future, they might be done on an iPad.

I’m glad someone thought of the sign thing. We hang on to clothes for a long time in our family. I’m pretty sure my uncle had a favorite blue shirt that he wore for about 20 years, so that wouldn’t have helped anyone guess the date. He also had a green windbreaker that he owned at least that long, so going by clothes would be a mistake.

Memory is a funny thing. When we are young, we assume we will remember things forever. By the time we get old, and our mind is cluttered with much more information, it’s too late.

The best advice I could give to a young person is to start writing things down early, even before they think it’s necessary. And also label their photos. It will save a lot of detective work later on.

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