January 21, 2014 • Ashley Walters
Now that you’ve started gathering old photographs, taking new ones and saving them all in one place, how should you go about using them?
Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns once said, “I treat the photograph as a work of great complexity in which you can find drama.” That is exactly how you want to think of the photographs in your collection. Where can they add drama to your story?
Images give life and bring a sense of authenticity to an organization’s history. Whether you’re looking at seemingly boring shots of people at work or a striking image of big-deal moment such as an IPO, photographs will grab your attention. As a viewer, you start to imagine what it was like to work in vast sea of identical desks in the 1950s or attend the company picnic in 1918. You see hope and excitement in the eyes of the founders at a grand opening in 1980. You begin to match personalities with faces and bios of innovators long gone.
Once you have put together a group of images for a project or topic, start to narrow down your image choices. Which photographs catch your eye? Is there just one picture that “says it all”? Sometimes, a cluster of images works great to illustrate various aspects of an event. Other times, more is distracting. If you can use just one or two images that encompass the heart of an event, go for it. Less really can be more.
There may not be a perfect photo to show the people, place and feel of an event. That’s OK; contextual images can give off a similar vibe. Does the story mention a specific office? Or perhaps reference a person? These types of images can also work well to spark imaginations, even if they aren’t perfectly suited to the overall theme. Don’t press the issue, though. If nothing works, let the words illustrate themselves. White space (the space around words and images) can be a welcome relief in a long-form publication or exhibit.
What do you do if that great photograph has a few issues of its own? It could be fuzzy or have an ugly tow truck taking up one side of the shot, or there may be damage to an aging physical photograph. Photo processing programs can work wonders. Check with a designer to see what can be done to clean up the image.
“But what about keeping something authentic?” you might wonder. The History Factory believes that the content of photos should never be changed. If something wasn’t there in the first place, we don’t manipulate an image to try to make it seem like it was. However, we do believe that you can clean up an image or crop out parts that do not apply in order to better illustrate a point. Zoom in on the storefront and crop out the tow truck. Take out the dust marks and scratches on that old photo. The images remain true to life, but the viewer can focus on what’s most important about them.
Imagery can help grab a viewer’s attention, illustrate concepts and connect people to another time and place. Where could your communications use some excitement?