Cleaning up broken links at 181.sorabji.com, that has been the agenda here, aiming to clear the link rot inevitably infesting sites that have been around for 20 years.
One day the Internet will disappear, and “links” will be a source of nostalgia, the term found mostly in weathered encyclopædia at tiny libraries.
Far fewer bad links than I expected turn up in these pages, though the link checkup only goes back to 2004. I may run the pages from 1994-2003 through link checkers.
Most of the dead links now are newly born (hah) on account of the move from sorabji.com to 181.sorabji.com. My inane habit of using relative links within the same site came back to bite, as I always knew it would. I could plug in smart wildcard redirects but I actually had a few days of bemusement wandering through some of the content here. I forgot so much.
I rediscovered pictures from the mini-adventure my father and I pursued, driving to Sneedville, Tennessee in the summer of 2000.
Sneedville is central to the history of the Melungeons, a mixed-race people whose ethnic heritage was billed an exotic mystery by the genealogical community in 1999 and 2000.
Modern DNA analysis seems to have painted a Melungeon ethnic profile far less exotic than some had imagined, but there is more debate over this matter than I have time to catch up with now.
I had my DNA analyzed by the folks at ancestry.com. I expected no surprises, and none arose: I am White! (that’s with an exclamation point). I rise White! from stock of Great Britain, Western Europe, Scandinavia, and Ireland. Trace regions of Eastern Europe, the Iberian Peninsula, and Italy/Greece leave some room for intrigue, but I’ll have none of that.
I gave virtually no attention to my parents’ discussions of their family trees throughout their years. My father in particular wanted me to know details of his side of the family. He wrote long letters to me describing his parents and grandparents, people I never knew or barely contacted.
Dad’s enthusiasm for his hawk-eyed past culminated anticlimactically in a dour, depressing reading of the family tree to my sister, myself, and in-laws. Going up and down the lineage he named names, helpfully adding how they died.
“He was a suicide” and “He died by alcohol” and “He died under questionable circumstances” sparkled like morbid Christmas ornaments on dad’s side of the tree.
It puzzles me how I became a genealogical sociopath.
For a few years I made side money as a Forensic Genealogist — a highfalutin term for Cemetery Photographer. Treetracers and occasionally attorneys (usually from far away) offered $50 or $75 for me to go out to Calvary and other New York City cemeteries. My mission was to find and photograph tombstones of their forebears (or their clients’ forbears), for whatever value the markers’ inscriptions might hold.
(You might be surprised by how many tombstones contain pertinent family information not recorded anywhere else.)
I pursued this labor-intensive work with genuinely positive energy and interest. I helped people connect disparate treetracer dots while also helping to open new mysteries.
I abandoned the pursuit after a majority of folks who contacted me not only decided not to pay me for my time and services, they didn’t even thank me for the hours of work it takes to find the right tombstone and appropriately photograph it.
To me this was a common symptom of the “everything is free on the Internet” mentality. In this case the gluttony extended beyond passively stealing digital content, moving into the realm of stealing hours worth of people’s time and physical effort, offering nothing in return.
Nevertheless, I maintained positive energy toward the pursuit for about a year.
For as much satisfaction I found successfully helping others fill in their family trees I am left with a conspicuous void of interest in my own heritage.
I do not refuse to be interested as a kind of protest or statement. I just don’t care.
Looking at the Sneedville pictures reminds me of how I reacted to the very first roll of film I ever had developed. They were pictures from a summer music festival/camp I attended during high school.
These were not the first pictures I ever took. Those were probably from grade school summer camp.
These were the first pictures I ever took and had developed on my own, with “my” money (as much as a parent’s allowance is “my” money).
The summer camp pictures I took were essentially commandeered by my mother, as would be typical of a 4th grade kid who went wild with a camera. Mother paid to have the pictures developed and she placed them in photo albums. That’s all fine but it was not the same as going to the photomat to pick up your own pictures on your own dime, to see “What You Got” from the camera days, weeks, even months after you took the pictures.
I remember the first time I experienced that moment of anticipation, that moment when the film I brought in to a film developing lab was handed back to me as actual photographs. It was a few months after I picked up a cheap but decent Kodak camera at an Eckerd Drug Store. (I still have the camera, held together by rubber bands in my quasi-hoarded closet.) I had the film developed at the same Eckerd Drug Store I bought the camera.
My reaction to opening my first set of photos was memorable: I cried. Sitting in a hot car parked outside an Eckerd Drug Stores I held the pictures up from my lap to keep tear drops from landing on them.
Why did I cry? I’ve asked myself many times. I do not know.
There was nothing sad about the photos.
I felt sadness for the overrated miracle of photographic images, for moments recorded (and thus regarded as authoritative) when the photographer knows that at best it captured only the slightest essence of a situation.
Photography seemed unfair and dishonest to me. In our culture the photograph enjoys an undeserved standing as a document of record.
A photograph is not a memory captured.
A photograph is the trivia of a moment.
What merit do I deserve for having recorded these images? The pictures were like the broken links I’ve been cleaning up this week: Connections to a whiff of what came before.
Lately I nurture a more recent epiphany about photographic images. I’ve turned against myself on the matter of doctoring and filtering photos. In the past I felt that only a liberal amount of adjustments should be allowed (contrast, saturation, etc.). This approach implies that something approaching sacredness infuses what comes out of the camera.
Expecting a perfect picture straight from the camera is no more ridiculous than a story writer or novelist writing their immortal magnum opus from start to finish straight from the pen without even a spellcheck.
I used to think altered and filtered photos signaled æsthetic dishonesty. Now I feel that refusing to use such tools signals laziness (I know, I know, welcome to the late 1990s).
A photo taken with the intent of communicating a point of view should move from the place at which it was taken to an editorial space to distinguish itself from the subject matter it captured. If an image was worth capturing for its perceived charm or idiosyncrasy then an artist’s work begins (does not end) with the photograph’s raw content. The artist’s work continues with crafting the image in an attempt to evocatively communicate the story.
Needless to say it is easy and even endemic among photographers to overdo it with these things, gratuitously applying HDR filters or postage stamps or borders to works perfectly acceptable under less drastically self-serving alterations.
Iiiiiiii’m going to sleep.