Photo Synthesis


As soon as you hit click on that camera, it’s as if you’ve outsourced your memory. Anytime we kind of count on these external memory devices, we’re taking away from the kind of mental cognitive processing that might help us actually remember that stuff on our own.” – Dr. Linda Henkel, cognitive psychologist

It’s official. Smartphones are now the most popular cameras. Gone are the days when we needed to remind ourselves to bring the camera along. It is now simply always at our fingertips. We are also no longer restricted to rolls of film and a preset amount of frames. We now accumulate thousands, if not tens of thousands of photo images every year. But how often do we think about archiving all these photos? For most, the idea of sorting through this digital burden seems overwhelming, and so we tend to procrastinate.

How to Get Started

Although it is understandably hard to part with any of our photographic treasures, refusing to make choices and keeping everything amounts to nothing less than an uncontrollable mess. If you’re not sure where to start on your own images,  imagine how future generations who will inherit them will feel. Odds are, the bigger the mess, the bigger the chance your images will just be ignored or trashed.

Editing for Now – and the Future

If you’ve ever had the experience of sifting through the photographic memories of dearly departed ones, you’ve come across this harsh truth: no one is ever going to want ALL your photos. That’s why, as discussed in our previous post, it’s important to think about your intent WHILE you are taking the photos.

To help you cut through your photo clutter resulting in a manageable archive, i.e. a meaningful collection,  we propose the following suggestions.

© Jessy Hodge

© Jessy Hodge


(Do the following in camera/phone whenever possible. This will save you a lot of screen time later).

1) Delete (or throw out, in the case of hard copies) the worst images. These include: blurry, dark and blown out images as well as those of the back of people’s heads.  If you can’t decide: toss it. Indecision IS the decision when it comes to photos.

2) Eliminate duplicates. When you have a series, chose the best of the best and delete the rest. There is NO NEED for 15 photos of a bouquet toss at your niece’s wedding. Pick the one that resonates the most with you, and then send the rest to the trashcan.

Sentimental Editing

If you’re editing printed photos, AGE and SCARCITY are the number one priorities to consider. The older and more rare the image, the more sentimental value it holds. Therefore, it is highly advised that it be preserved using archival quality methods as well as storing it digitally and backing it up. You can however, offer what remains to family members and close friends, or share your own digital copy.

When you start your editing process, try and be objective. If these pictures belonged to your Uncle Ron, which ones would you most likely want to keep?

1)   People photos: Eliminate photos of buildings, landscapes and unidentified people. Let’s face it, unless people you backpacked with 40 years ago became life-long friends, your grandchildren won’t want photos of people they don’t know.

Remember our rule of thumb: When in doubt, toss it out.

2)   Sentimentality: Help out your heirs by editing your collection down to your favorites. They will never be able to guess which photos are the most meaningful if they have to sort through tens of thousands.

3)   Bonus points: The real treasure lies in passing on WHY these were your favorites. Dating and annotating digital files, writing notes on printed photos or tagging albums will increase the value of your images for years to come.

Final Thoughts

If you absolutely cannot bear to throw any images away, realize that someone will. If you STILL can’t get over it make two piles: EDITED and EVERYTHING. That way at least you’ve identified which ones of your collection are truly meaningful ones. After you have your two piles, make a third one, MEMOIRS, using images from your EDITED pile. This will be an even smaller collection that helps tell your full life story. Too many, and you run the risk of your family losing interest in your selection.

The reason for preserving your photos for generations to come is to enable family members, present and future, to get to know and understand you better. Dusting off boxes and/or external hard drives that hold pictures and memories is difficult for most to do. Get and keep your collection under control with ongoing editing.  I promise you will experience more satisfaction and joy by perusing your well-edited collection of photos with your loved ones. And just remember, keep smiling!

Our next blog post will explore different mediums in which to preserve your collection as an archive and share it.

A Life in Photos: Preserving our Legacy as it Happens

Until modern times, storytelling either verbal or written, has been the only way to pass down family history and lore. The inventions of audio recording, still cameras, film and video technologies in the 19th and 20th centuries have allowed us to tell, record and share with our own voice and likeness. These methods have revolutionized not only the way the stories are told, but also how they are shared and how they can be preserved.

Fast forward to the early 2000’s with the advent of digital technology and mobile devices. We now hold in the palm of our hand the ability to preserve history and personal stories as they unfold, and share them immediately with the whole world, or at the very least with Grandma on the other side of the country.

What are you preserving?

For each of us, the answer will be as different as we are unique.  In broad strokes however, we all preserve more or less the same things. They include milestones (weddings, births, graduations, birthdays), day-to-day (sports, activities, funny moments, get-togethers) and new to the gamut–  selfies.

Although they are fun to look at immediately and share on social media channels, it’s worth more than a moment to think about why you are preserving these moments. Years from now, how many of the tens of thousands of digital files you took will you be willing to sift through to find a memory’s defining moment? Do you have storage and filing systems that will enable you to find what you’re looking for? Will scrolling through hundreds upon hundreds of thumbnails become the future equivalent to Uncle Bernie’s slideshows of the 80’s?

© Lisa Tower

© Lisa Tower

Setting Your Intent

It’s great to take numerous photos all the time, but it’s more manageable if you set an intention for each group of images. Take the time to promptly choose a folder name to properly archive  the event and the people in the shot. This will leave a rich photo and video legacy for your children and grandchildren, to jog the memory and act as story aids to explain who was there and what it was like.

Set up a Successful Photographic Legacy

Ever been puzzled or frustrated because you came across a series of old photographs in which you knew only one, or maybe none of the people in the image? Or perhaps there is a date or name but no details? Imagine your heir scrolling through (if they can make it through) all of your numerous digital images not knowing anything about them. Be mindful of every time you dump your CF and SD cards into a hard drive, or on the “cloud”.

Taking the time to print your photos, label them digitally or on the back, and file them in an album or within a digital system. This will not only help you out when you’re looking to pull out the ‘Karen having a bath in the sink’ image for her wedding montage, it will also help you build the story of your family to share with future generations.

Our next blog post will provide suggestions on how to set up a successful photo and video legacy.


New Year’s Day is the WRITE TIME: A Legacy Letter to Our Children and Grandchildren

The end of a year and beginning of a New Year is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future. While we generally focus on planning for our personal and professional goals, we must not forget to think about how our children and grandchildren fit into “the big picture” of our lives.

Writing a legacy letter to (grand)children is an exercise that appears easy enough: write a few stories, some values and beliefs, lessons learned, and most importantly communicate how much you love them. It’s so surprising that most people tend to put it off…Someday we’ll find the time and in the meantime our (grand)kids can rest assured that we love them!

© insEyedout

© insEyedout

Life is unpredictable. Our memories of the big and small events can and will fade. A simple way to preserve and share these stories is by writing them down in a letter or journal at this special time of year—and sharing it with loved ones.

There is no better time than the present. Once the letter is drafted, make sure to keep it safe, copied, or with technology so prevalent–back it up digitally by snapping a photo of it on a smartphone.

The value of these letters is immeasurable. When opened in the future, (grand)children will get to know more about themselves and you – as a (grand)parent and as a person.

Life can change in an instant. I invite you now to take the time to write your own legacy letter to your loved ones. For those among us who are not parents, these letters are also precious gifts for our nieces, nephews and Godchildren. Remember: your letter is like a permanent hug.

Grab a pen, paper or keyboard – get it in writing and share it soon!

Happy New Year to you and yours! Be well, go safely.

To view Iris Wagner’s full-length article Finding the Words: A Legacy Letter to our (Grand) Children, which appeared December 30, 2014 Love Your, kindly click here.


Personal History Coach’s Corner – Thanksgiving Edition

Laura Mclure of posted this online recently for discussion at the Thanksgiving table. We at Memoirs challenge you to record the answers of your elders this holiday season.

Photo: Martin Cathrae

Photo: Martin Cathrae

  1. What are you grateful for?

  2. What are you proudest of?

  3. What’s been the happiest moment of your life so far?

  4. What’s been the hardest moment of your life, and how did you get through it?

  5. What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?

  6. How would you describe yourself as a child? Were you happy?

  7. Who has been kindest to you?

  8. How do you want to be remembered?

  9. If your great great grandchildren could listen to this years from now: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?

  10. If you could honor one person in your life — living or dead — by listening to their story, who would that be, what would you ask them and why?

Happy Hallowe’en!


It’s that time of year again! Ghosts, goblins and princesses are set to roam the streets tonight in search of candy loot.

A special time for both family and community, Halloween is a one-of-a-kind holiday when it comes to memory making. Children have the opportunity to dress in costume, stay up late, be outside in the dark, and counting, sorting and indulging in fistfuls of candy. Yum!

Halloween is a time when costumed kids (and some adults!) are captured in photos to preserve the special memory of that ritual. These precious pictures will bring us right back to where we were at that moment in time. The sounds, smells, sights and frights, everything will makes us smile at the fun of it all.

For all the sweet tooths out there and for the sweet memories in the making, Happy Halloween!

Be well, go safely (and don’t forget your flashlights!)

Robert DeNiro Jr and Sr - Remembering the Artist

Robert De Niro: Preserving His Father’s Legacy

The Metropolitan Museum in New York City indexes four entries under the name Robert De Niro. The information recorded is not about the Oscar-winning actor and director, but rather about his father, the artist. Thanks to a recently released HBO documentary  “Remembering the Artist, Robert De Niro Sr.” we now know a lot more about his fascinating life.

Robert (Jr.) had a desire to preserve and rectify the truth about his father’s legacy as an artist, as well as his struggles as a gay man, and as such, produced this highly evocative documentary film. I believe we are privileged as a public viewing audience to see such a personal tribute.

De Niro had a complex relationship with his father. After his parents separated when he was two and finally divorced when he was nine or ten, he rarely saw him. “I was not aware, much, of it [his father being gay]. I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age,” De Niro said during an interview in Out Magazine[1].

During his teens he would listen to his father rant about the injustices of the art world and the difficulty artists had in selling their work. “Artists are always recognized after they’re long gone,” says De Niro in the film’s trailer.

However brief his fame as an artist in the 1940’s and 50’s might have been, De Niro, Sr. was exhibited alongside Jackson Pollock by Peggy Guggenheim, and as a result, the impact his life and his artwork left on his son was powerful. Consequently, De Niro Jr. preserved his father’s SoHo studio much as it was, with paintings on the wall, books, and exhibition posters, as a personal tribute to his descendants.

Preserving his father’s legacy

“When he passed away I thought, well, I should keep it,” De Niro says in an interview with “because it’s a very special place, and also for my grandchildren and for my young kids, who never knew him. I wanted them to see what their grandfather did, what their great-grandfather did. And this is the best way.”

To get to know his father better and further immortalize the truth of his father’s life and its’ meaning, De Niro Jr. created Remembering the Artist – Robert De Niro Sr. His life and struggles are explored through old journal entries and photographs, as well as interviews of those close to him.

Robert DeNiro Jr and Sr - Remembering the Artist

Robert De Niro Jr. made the documentary film “Remembering the Artist – Robert De Niro Sr.” to explore and preserve the life and struggles of his father.

It was something De Niro Jr. always felt should be done. “I should have done this ten years earlier, but I’m glad I did it now.” In fact ten years ago he was interviewed in Esquire Magazine, and was quoted as saying that one of his biggest regrets in life was not getting enough of his parent’s stories recorded for his children and grandchildren. Now he can be proud of this accomplishment.

As we see in the De Niro family, many personal journeys are sometimes difficult. That is why recording the triumphs and challenges of life experiences, and the wisdom gained, is so vital to a family’s history. Through journal entries and video recordings gathered to preserve it, we can get to know family members more intimately. The result will be lifestories and wisdom to cherish leading us to a better understanding of our own heritage.

Kudos to Robert De Niro Jr. for getting it done!






We’ve been nominated

We’ve just received news that Memoirs Productions has been shortlisted for the Family Office Review’s Excellence in Specialty Services Award

For the complete list of nominees and all ticket order information for this prestigious event, being held at the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago June 5th, 2014, please click here.

We hope to see you there!


UPDATE: JUNE 6th, 2014

Congratulations to all the winners of the Third Annual Family Office Review Awards! To view the complete list of winners, please click here.

Suzanne Shier, SVP-- Northern Trust and Iris Wagner

Suzanne Shier, SVP– Northern Trust and Iris Wagner

Steffi Claiden, Editor-In-Chief, Family Office Review with Iris Wagner

Steffi Claiden, Editor-In-Chief, Family Office Review with Iris Wagner


It's more than moneyMemoirs Productions and Iris E. Wagner have been featured in Patricia Annino’s latest book “It’s More Than Money, Protect Your Legacy”. In her book Patricia examines how to:

* Focus on what your values are.
* Align those values with your goals.
* Work with your team of advisors to put in place the legal documents and financial framework that will
* Protect you, your family, your charities and your legacy.


“As Iris points out, an ethical will benefits both the narrator and the recipient. It benefits the narrator because it is a celebration of life by which the narrator focuses on meaning, perspective and purpose. It is an open communication with important people…”

This is both a how to do it blueprint and a handbook designed to provoke family discussion, understanding and unity.

The book is now available on Amazon. We highly recommend adding it to your summer reading list!

Living LegaciesIn other noteworthy news

Iris Wagner wrote the Prologue for the recently published Living Legacies – Volume IV, A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, PK Press 2014


Another Trip Around the Sun

While families get together to observe holidays throughout the year, there is nothing quite as special as the celebration of one’s birthday. A day especially for us, when we are honored by friends and loved ones.  Today is a special day on the blog as we are acknowledging Memoirs’ CEO Iris Wagner’s birthday!

From the joyful childhood rituals of birthday bumps, to blowing out candles and singing the birthday song, these dates of celebration tend to take on greater significance as the years pass. With wisdom comes gratitude for the precious gifts of time and experience.

As part of the very personal celebration, birthdays are an opportune time of year to pause, reflect, and set goals we wish to accomplish before our next birthday rolls around. Even better: write them out and put the list in a place where it can easily be referenced. Imagine the treasures you will accumulate if, year after year, you collect these lists: a veritable portal into the evolution of priorities and accomplishments across your lifetime.

Sharing a birthday is also fun! We seem to pay extra attention to the celebrity birthdays, and horoscope predictions when our special day comes around; it’s also great for forging connections. An interesting anecdote: during an icebreaker at a conference networking event, participants were asked to find others who shared their same birth year, followed by month, then day, all the way down to the time of birth. If you can believe it, Iris met someone who had been born at the exact same year, day and minute as she– except he was born in England!

Above all, birthdays should be a yearly celebration of life. A day to indulge in special treats, small (or big) luxuries, and rituals we might forgo the rest of the year. A special day to celebrate and be feted– a day that is just for us!

Happy Birthday Iris! Many happy and healthy returns!

To all who read this we wish you and your families a Happy Passover and Joyous Easter for 2014!