The “attic” of people’s hearts


As we got older we would sleep later and later on Christmas morning. My four siblings and I, our parents, and any friends who joined us that year would all leisurely get up, find a big box of donuts in the kitchen and slowly gather before the festivities began.

About a month ahead, we would have received a timed agenda in the mail from my mother.  This is a Leydorf family tradition that as I was growing up seemed normal to me; but friends of mine have commented that it is not typical. But, my mother was a planner and perhaps it was a way for her to support my father who was and remains a very big fan of a detailed schedule and a plan. And in any case, it played out mellow and as a day of total relaxation and fun. When I saw a few “Christmas agendas” in my family scrapbook, I felt of pang of sadness that I can longer anticipate it in the mail. I did not think much about it when I received them over the years.

One high point for me after we opened some gifts and as we were regrouping before dinner, we would sometimes play a quick a game of hoops at the schoolyard across the street: my dad and I against my brothers Tom and Bill. They would sometimes break into playing like they were the Harlem Globetrotters Basketball Team, trying to spin the basketball on top of their finger while they were considering their free throw shot, dribbling the ball in front and then around their back, probably breaking all kinds of rules of the game, but we would laugh so hard nobody cared.

Another highlight for all of us was our yearly colored group sweatshirt. My mother would pick a different color each year, buying one for each of us and our guests, plus by post, one for every guest who had ever visited us any year in the history of family Christmas’. We would wear our color all day and to the movie theatre later. Our large group would simultaneously stand in domino-like unison to do the wave across the seats before the movie started. I just remember laughing, a lot.

Nobody outside of my family seems to get this sweatshirt tradition. But we loved it. We reveled in our eccentricity. The final year of the sweatshirt was a bit sad for me. My mother said that she officially ran out of colors.

These memories came streaming back to me, by just looking at that photo of us in blue sweatshirts one Christmas morning.

Family and personal albums reveal the truths about ourselves and they portray the people we care about and love the most, like the “attic of people’s hearts”. They tell our family narratives and secrets. And they can give us insights into the fabric our legacy and how this weaves into our own way of being.

Revisit family albums looking for the pictures that stand out the most. Also, check your stories with those of your family members. You may be surprised how your narratives differ for the same picture.

  • Why are your eyes drawn to certain pictures first?
  • How do they make you feel?
  • How does each picture reflect who you are now as a person?
  • What dynamics do you see in your relationships with and between your family members?
  • How was the album constructed and what does this say about your family?

Here are three pictures that immediately caught my eye as I looked through family albums today. For most, if you click on the image you can see it enlarged since the detail is quite small on some.

My family waiting for me.

group waiting-8

My mother’s look of determination at the young age of 16.


The five of us siblings just before bedtime. Our personalities shine through.


Then there was this that may be a bit telling, about me at the time of my birth.


As I casually look through my family albums, I do see some family dynamics and a bit of how I came to be who I am now.

By contemplating where we come from, we may better understand our motivations as photographers, what we shoot, how we shoot it, and why it has meaning to us.

You can learn more about analysing family photos and the field of photo psychology at this link.

Every photograph we take is a self-portrait

“Every photograph someone takes is also a type of self-portrait reflecting them, because each contains information about the person who made it. Its visual contents metaphorically represent what was important enough to the photographer’s eyes at that moment that they chose to freeze it permanently. Even though they may well not be in that picture themselves, every step of choosing where, when, who, how, and why to take any photograph says as much about its creator as it does about the subject matter being recorded on film.” (Photo Therapy centre online)

Do you prefer photography in black and white or color? Do you interact directly with your subject or are you passive and contemplative taking pictures from afar? What colors are you drawn to? What do you find yourself photographing the most by choice? What symbols come up most often in your pictures – water, trees, families, buildings, flowers, animals?

What do these things mean? Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, among others, have deliberated symbolic meaning. A trained psychologist could certainly reflect. But, we may also find that the answers lie within ourselves. It may be obvious or we may feel like we know the right meaning for certain things, when inspiration strikes.

Each photo that you take is a narrative about you – it reveals you. Our photography reflects the nature of our personalities, the baggage we bring from our life experiences, our mood of that day and what is most on our mind at that time in our life. Taking the photo is also one way to reconcile our emotional state, like how a dream brings to our attention those issues that are buried in our subconscious.

If we look closely enough at our own portfolios, we can learn a lot about ourselves. Self-awareness may also affect our work as photojournalists – if we have the courage to face the good and bad that is in ourselves we can manifest it creatively and honestly.

I am interested in this academic discipline that bridges psychology and photography because I see it as a possibly overlooked influence for the meaning of our work. Can we assess representation, ethics, context, technicality, and finally outcome, without also considering the inner narrative of the photographer as an influence?

This comes to mind as I analyze photography of persons with disability, by example. The thought of disability may cause a visceral reaction for some. It may be compassion, or misunderstanding, bias, memory, inspiration, or maybe fear of one’s own vulnerability. These feelings could influence how a person photographs someone with disability by manifesting their own issues onto the final photo through projection of their bias.

I may take this interest to a practical level and explore it in photojournalism. It is one of the ideas I am considering during my next term either to integrate into my photographic practice or through academic exploration. I am still finding my way for this how it could be manifested through photo reportage or composition, but it could be interesting to try either now or at a later time.

One reference for more information about the multifaceted approach of photo therapy can be found at this link.