Family Memory Keepers

Cyndi Shattuck Photography

When Paper Is Personal

It all started in the late ‘90s at the Wall Street Journal, when Cyndi Shattuck put herself to the task of organizing the paper’s photo archives. The transition to the digital age had begun and Shattuck knew that her staff had to keep up with the changing copyright laws, so she streamlined their workflow and established searchable digital artwork archives. Then September 11th happened.

For the better part of a year, Shattuck had to live out of a hotel, and she found herself considering a more personal way to apply her skills. “When I went back to the hotel each day, I kept thinking about how the news business was changing and I began to realize that I spent most of my days in meetings, typing emails, reading news stories, directing artists, and coming up with concepts for infographics, but not creating anything of my own,” she says. “I missed being an artist and working with my hands.”

The professional started with jewelry making, turning her hotel desk into a temporary studio space. But images had always been her specialty. Then, one night, an old friend called and asked Shattuck to photograph her parents’ wedding vow renewals.

“I hesitated. Becoming a wedding photographer was the very lowest form of photography you could go into while I was in art school!” Shattuck says. But she accepted the gig and started receiving requests for other photo projects.

With parents in the bookbinding and conservation industry and her degree in photography, Shattuck was then asked to consult on a large personal photography collection. “I went to the client’s home and she started opening up closets full of old crumbling photo albums, VHS tapes, cassette tapes, newspapers, family documents, piles of unsorted negatives, magazines—you name it, it was there,” she recalls.

She got right to work, organizing, scanning, and preserving the images. The project took four years to complete. “[We] created new chronologically sorted albums, printed negatives that had never been printed, made leather bound books to distribute to her siblings and children, family calendars, and even a family cookbook,” Shattuck says. “It was then and there that my archiving business was born.”

Located on the Upper East Side, Cyndi Shattuck Photography both captures and preserves our most cherished possessions: photos of loved ones. What really makes memories stick is Shattuck’s archiving work. She takes old letters, photos, recipes, videos, postcards, and any other memory triggers and starts building fresh photo albums or more artistic bound books.

“It’s something you’ll pick up in bed and look at, and it’s tactile,” Shattuck says. “We always worry we are doing things that are dying crafts, but it turns out there are plenty of people who want to preserve on paper.”

A big advantage to her binding technique is that she and her crew can make multiple copies of one book. If it’s a family’s story through the decades, each generation or branch of a family tree can savor a copy of its own.

What’s more, Shattuck also offers digital archive management services for families who have all their pictures on electronic devices. So those fifty photos that you snapped with your iPhone on Thanksgiving aren’t forever stuck in limbo.

“What I like doing the most is uncovering things for people that sometimes they have never seen,” Shattuck says.

Her personal touch can be seen in all of her projects, and when it comes to preserving family memories, that’s really what matters the most.

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Multimedia Memories

Imagine a documentary of your life, including all the important people, your favorite soundtracks, and what loved ones have to say about you. That’s exactly what the Brooklyn-based production company StoryKeep does.

By merging existing media with new audio and visuals, Lisa Madison and Jamie Yuenger create professional documentaries that tell personal histories. The duo specializes in recording family stories and organizes old video recordings and audio files to narrate a family’s dynamic, a grandparent’s story, or a parent’s own childhood. One example of their fine work is a digitized baby book from 1902. Sixteen millimeter films don’t stand a chance of being damaged in the careful hands of StoryKeep artists.

The almost-two-year-old company began after Madison and Yuenger worked on a documentary together. Madison’s film experience combined with Yuenger’s radio journalism expertise formed the backbone of StoryKeep.

“We just got talking and realized we had the audio-visual perfect marriage to start a company like this,” Yuenger says. “And we had the passion to do this.”

One special aspect of their documentary-style work is conducting intimate interviews with clients and combining them with old recordings from friends and family to let the story unfold. Perfect for weddings and coming-of-age parties, the films serve to freeze moments in time, particularly during the lightning-fast years that make up childhood—when parents try their best to hold on to the present.

“It’s the look in someone’s eyes as they tell a story rather than a name on a page on a family tree,” Madison says about the power of film as a memory format.

A Year in the Life, one of StoryKeep’s unique offerings, provides parents with the chance to record the birth story of a baby—a sizeable slice of those earliest days. Using recordings that have been captured throughout that first year, Madison and Yuenger add visuals and family photos taken with smartphones and other devices to create a digital scrapbook that can stand the test of time.

“We capture language development, playtime, reading adventures, family visits—practically anything that can happen in one year,” Yuenger says.

Similarly, StoryKeep’s wonderful Life Chronicle project documents an older relative’s life story for young children through audio or video recordings.

And one memory project that will get everyone on board is Video Booth, a collection of personal messages from loved ones to be gifted at a baby shower, birthday party, bar or bat mitzvah, or anniversary. What better way to capture enduring hope, wishes, love, and advice from family and friends?

“We get to do something that really has some importance to people,” Yuenger says. “Don’t wait. Life is happening now.”

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And for a list of family-friendly scrapbooking apps, click here.