Join us in the search for clues to mystery photographs that could hold links to long-lost relatives. Angi Kennedy reports on a fascinating new exhibition.
Uncovering photo mysteries
Y ou’re sifting through a pile of old photographs that you’ve inherited. The pictures are fascinating, but the places and faces are just vaguely remembered or perhaps even long forgotten. And there is no-one to ask who or where they were. Could that be your great-great grandfather? Whose wedding is being celebrated? Was that the ancestral home?
Most of us will have come across at least one such mystery amid their old family photos. It’s the moment we realise we should have looked through them with older relatives who have now passed on, with those who could identify the faces and places and tell stories that would bring to life these snapshots into a world gone by.
For Richard Fair, project manager at The Forum in Norwich, it was stumbling across a couple of intriguing old family photos that triggered the idea of staging a special exhibition which will link up with Let’s Talk magazine, Age UK Norwich and the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Millennium Library.
Who Do You Think They Are? takes place at The Forum from Monday, March 13 to Saturday, April 1, with the aim of sharing some of the clues that can help unpick the mystery of unidentified photos, as well as celebrating the lives of the people captured in these mystery pictures.
Richard explained: “I was looking through some old photos and came across these delightful images of a group in a charabanc and some people in a harvest field. I loved the pictures and the thought of the stories they might have told, but I have no idea who the people are or what is my connection to them. It made me think that there are probably lots of people in a similar situation with pictures that they can’t identify.
“We are in a generation now when everyone is a photographer with a camera in their pocket. But when we look back at these old photos we realise how precious they were and how they record moments that are lost forever.”
Richard hopes that visitors to the exhibition will bring their own mystery photos to show the experts on hand. And he has also commissioned the Norfolk artist and arts educator Ali Atkins to create a memorial to the lives of the unidentified people in the photographs. She is designing and building wooden display “trees” which will stand in The Forum.
“We’re hoping that people will bring their photos in, so that we can scan them and they can put the scanned image on to the memorial. We hope to be able to display about 350 photographs, which will create a forest of memories.”
The exhibition will include advice on researching family history. The Millennium Library in The Forum at Norwich has a wealth of information and expertise for anyone interested in discovering more about their family story as well as preserving their local memories. Visitors will be able to share their tales of life in Norfolk with Historypin Connections. Norfolk Library and Information Service is taking part in this national project to create a community archive. There will be staff from the Norfolk Heritage Centre on hand offering informal sessions alongside the exhibition, giving hints on how to get started, using its subscription to FindMyPast to help break down any “brick walls” and signpost to more resources that are available in the Heritage Centre on the second floor of the library.
Also supporting the exhibition is Age UK Norwich, which offers a listening ear, support, advice and help for older people and their families to stay independent, active and healthy
Uncovering the past through old photos.
One of the photos that gave Richard Fair the idea for the exhibition. Richard discovered it among a collection of old family photos - from the clothes they are wearing and the charabanc it appears that the picture was taken in the 1920s or 1930s on a day out. But who are these people and why was it in his family collection?
The exhibition will include advice on deciphering the clues in old photos. For instance, this picture looks like a portrait from Victorian times, but there have been trends for recreating vintage images in more recent times - so how can you tell if it is the real thing?