Caption: Barbara Cannegieter’s postcard collection is also a rich source of local history and culture. (Photo from Barbara Cannegieter Postcard Collection)

By Mark Yokoyama

Photos may be the most direct link we have to the past of the island. Photos capture people, places and things from the past. They capture culture and family history. They show us nature and the landscapes of the past. We can see what people were doing and the expressions on their faces.

Photos are also important because they contain stories that were never written down. Where written history features a handful of people, we have photos of many people. By preserving, sharing and studying these photos, we can build a more complete history.

Many people are already working on this project, perhaps without thinking of it in this way. There are people sharing photos on social media, and others commenting. Every time someone uploads a photo or identifies a person or a place or a year in a comment, our knowledge of the past increases.

Even the simple act of saving family photos, postcards and other materials is part of this process. Without these collections, there would be nothing to study or share. St. Martin is a land of 1,000 archivists who have protected these precious memories through the years.

A physical photo album has some limitations. It isn’t accessible to everyone. It could also be destroyed in a storm or thrown away by someone who doesn’t value it. Making images digital and sharing them brings them into the public sphere. It also ensures that at least some version of the image remains even if the original is lost.

Social sharing is a great way to help people connect to photos and share insights, but it also has limitations. Often photos are shared in low quality. This can be okay on a computer or phone screen, but some details may be lost. Also, social media is not very good for organizing photos. Many people may see and comment on a photo when it is posted, but it can be hard to find it again.

St. Martin may not have the resources to create a state of the art archive like those at the Library of Congress or New York Public Library. But it is possible to make a simple site where photos can be shared and information about them can be collected. You can find the beginnings of this site at http://image.amuseumnaturalis.com.

Right now, the St. Martin image collection includes photos and postcards from several generous people who offered to share what they have preserved. Others are welcome to contribute images or information about what is in the photos. Over time, this can grow to a rich archive of images and stories that is accessible to all.

Do you want to learn how to find the stories in your family photos? There will be a free workshop on Saturday, December 7, at Amuseum Naturalis. You will learn how to find the story in a family photo you bring. You will also get a scan of your photo that you can share with family for the holidays. To sign up, email [email protected]