The Treasure Box

The pink and silver striped tin held lollies: chocolate cubed violet crumbles, or perhaps colourfully striped liquorice all-sorts. But that was not the reason I was drawn to my grandmother’s cabinet. There were interesting treasures behind the locked glass doors; bright objects that caught the eye of a small girl.

I remember the Toby mugs of varying sizes, stern faces, coloured coats, white stockings, buckled black shoes, and handles on their backs. Also elegant porcelain ladies with full skirts feathered with lace folds. A Japanese fan that revealed a pretty painted scene when unlatched. The family of small black elephants with white tusks always proved to be safe play things for children. Tea sets; elegant glasses; crystal bowls; decorated plates; and small decorated boxes that could hold hidden treasure, but when opened revealed – nothing.

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The thing that always attracted me the most was a beautiful silver coloured tea set. It was modern in design in comparison to the other objects held in the cabinet. But I didn’t know anything about that then. My grandmother told me that I could have it when I grew up. This embarrassed me, as my appreciation of her things was just that, and so while I continued to admire her treasures, I stopped declaring this.

My mother inherited this cabinet minus many of the treasures within. My grandmother did indeed give me the silver tea set for a significant birthday. And over the years I have collected my own treasures. These things have been in boxes for the last 2 ½ years and it is only now that I am able to unpack them and put them into my grandmother’s cabinet that I inherited from my mother.

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My mother collected small elephant figurines. I don’t know why. Perhaps this love grew after the time she spent in Thailand. She had many of different styles, colours, materials, and sizes. At her wake my father said to offer them around to the people there. So I placed them all onto a tray and went around offering them like a plate of sandwiches. And almost everyone would say, “No I can’t take that one. That is the nicest one and everyone will want it.” People were drawn to the different elephants and almost all of them found new homes and a memento of my mother.

It is interesting to me the value that we place on objects. Why do we do that? Sentimental reasons and nostalgia count for a lot. What might have value in the market place might not be valued by me at all. I became an Industrial Designer because I appreciate well-designed good quality objects. Once I saw the ugly cheap plastic reality of mass production I bailed from this career path, not wanting to add to the already drowning plastic fantastic universe. “Form follows function” is the dictum of Industrial Design. And yet how many ways can we construct a chair? Or a tea pot? What do we actually need in our lives?

I cherish the memory of admiring the objects in my grandmother’s cabinet. It was a pure delight not yet tarnished with notions of monetary value, possession, greed, or competition. It was a small girl’s wonder that is precious in itself.

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Happy snaps

I have just studied the subject Creating and Preserving Digital Content through Charles Sturt University for the successful completion of the Master of Information Studies. And it has got me thinking….

All of those family photos held in a variety of forms in a variety of containers need some sorting. There are old printed photographs in photo albums and in boxes. There are digital photographs that reside in cameras, phones, devices, SD cards, CD’s, and computers. There are digital copies of photos sitting in random digital file folders on computers. And we keep producing more each day adding to the digital heap.

So now I know how to go about organising all of this stuff, I need the time to actually sit down and apply myself to the mammoth task of sorting it out.

Once I comprehend the enormity of the task I begin to ask myself – why? For what purpose? Who cares? How many photographs of wind-swept beach scenes are too many?

Then there is the question of the integrity of the captured image: if a filter is applied to an image from a Smartphone app then this should be noted in the metadata or description. But that adds another level of tedium to the task, and yet if it is not done then what does that say about the authenticity of the resulting image. Is it then art or photography? Or both?

The notion of transience emerges too when considering the purpose of such an exercise. With ease and speed of connected social media channels through smart devices, a photo shared across networks among friends and family is enjoyed for the moment, in the context of that moment, and then swept into the ever-moving stream of data creation. Sure it is still ‘there’ somewhere in the digital ether, waiting to be retrieved for future embarrassment; like a baby photo shown by smirking parents at their child’s 21st birthday party. Other than for nostalgic amusement, is there value in spending so much time and effort in sorting out the family photos for ‘the future’?

I can hear the archivists and historians stirring on their leather chairs, leaning forward, fingers cracking, ready to post a heart-felt reply. I welcome it because I need a good reason to justify this effort.

The term ‘digital dark age’ was used in Creating and Preserving Digital Content to illustrate a possible scenario where data is lost through poor preservation techniques. I get it. I wrote an essay about it, elaborately describing the scenes from the original movie version of The Time Machine, where the vacuous stares of the future Eloi people are the result of lost knowledge from crumbling pages in books left to decay.

I appreciate the words of former Prime Minister Harold Holt at the Stone Ceremony March in 1966:

We cannot understand the present or plan for the future without the knowledge of the past.

danielle_susan_margaret_alice_1984And yet significant family portraits containing four females spanning four generations might be worthy of preservation for sharing amongst immediate and future family members, but how many “selfie’s” must we have to delete before we gain a representative portrait of one individual.

My thoughts are a jumble between process, content, and value. The process is complex and needs to be worked out to establish some kind of system that works and fulfills preservation standards. The content contains so many variables and raises questions about authenticity. The value is difficult to judge because it is not easy to project into the minds of some future person and decide if this image is worth the effort of the time invested in preserving it.

This article about one family’s preservation project describes some of these issues with a heart-warming narrative and a positive outcome, but concluding that it is “never done.”

My aim is to begin. I have the relevant information about how to approach the task. I have a large external hard-drive. I will gather the photos in all forms. I will start sorting, naming, describing, storing, backing-up, and hopefully one day in the future I will have some kind of result that’s purpose will be apparent.

In the words of Francis Kilvert, as quoted from this article: Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist by Richard Cox:

Why do I keep this voluminous journal? I can hardly tell. Partly because life appears to me such a curious and wonderful thing that it almost seems a pity that even such a humble and uneventful life as mine should pass altogether away without some record such as this.

Cox, R. J. (2009). Digital Curation and the Citizen Archivist. Digital Curation: Practice, Promises & Prospects. pp. 102-109. http://d-scholarship.pitt.edu/2692/

Sitting in my mother’s garden

My mother’s garden is sustaining me at the moment while staying over to keep my father company and help him as he fights his own battle with cancer. For four years he cared for my mother while she was in and out of chemotherapy, hospitals and various other treatments. He was at her side the whole time. Now he is burdened with the same demands: chemotherapy, doctor’s visits, and other treatments.

While I take my turn in the family care roster, I spend a lot of time in the garden. And it is a beautiful little garden. There is a pond with a fountain in the centre, and two gold fish live on despite neglect. A shady fernery. Another small bird bath lower in the garden. Roses, a lemon tree, various Australian native shrubs, and other small flowering shrubs. The veranda is sheltered from the weather and is a lovely spot to sit and watch the birds as they flit about. In the afternoons they plunge into the fountain, then alight on the rose arbour to shake themselves vigorously, before another plunge, shake and happy chirp.

I pick flowers and put them in a vase on the kitchen table as Mum would have done. She collected small ornamental elephants and also blue and white patterned crockery, so I place the little blue and white elephant beside the vase of flowers as a memento to her. And I sit in her house surrounded by her treasured things, while Dad sits in fortitude against the ensuing internal war.

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