On stilled voices and visualising silence

Yesterday my 100 days project word was ‘silence’ — and I have to say it was possibly the most challenging to date.

Partly that might be because I’m away from home, without access to my normal work tools and archives and reliant on my iPad. Partly it’s just because silence is something I find difficult to visually convey.

Eventually I realised that the most profound silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of communication. Last year, on my trip to Scotland, I visited a number of cemeteries and kirkyards, looking for the headstones of ancestors. I found more than I’d expected and will always treasure those moments with those tangible symbols of my lineage.

But alone in those bleak, quiet places, I also felt the profound loss of lives stilled. I come from ordinary folk who don’t in general leave traces of themselves in recorded history. Once those who knew them stop sharing stories, their lives are silenced.

If I learned anything from my kirkyard visits, it is to speak to family members now; record their stories and share them with the next generations.

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100 Days Project: making connections

100 Days Project: day 2, and already my interest in family history is seeping in. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

100 Days Project: day 2, and already my interest in family history is seeping in. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I’ve signed up for the 100 Days Project – an exercise in creativity that involves doing one thing every day for 100 days. I decided to take randomly generated words and see what they inspired in me. Today (day 2 of the project), my word was sepia.

Of course that made me think of old photos and how I spend time looking at pictures of my female forebears in beautiful dresses and amazing hats — and wondering what those clothes really looked like — particularly  the colours.

Without the memories of those who remain, we will never know these things. But family history is a kind of exercise in “adding colour”. Not literally maybe, but by researching the lives of our ancestors, particularly the little details we often learn almost by accident, and the social context of their lives; we enrich the picture that we have of them.

I don’t think today’s exercise is particularly effective visually; I’m rubbish at hand-colouring images. But I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter. 100 Days isn’t just about product, but about process. About the way I think and the connections I make. And maybe I’ll learn to hand-colour old photos.