Q&A with Taylor Jones, Founder & Author of Dear Photograph
It’s one of the most poignant websites you’ll ever visit. Seriously, check it out and try not to be moved or get teary-eyed. (I have. Every. single. time.)
DearPhotograph.com features photo submissions from all over the world. The premise: Individuals visit the original place where a meaningful photo was taken. They hold up the old photo and snap away. Then they add a caption, beginning with “Dear photograph.”
CBS named Dear Photograph the No. 1 website in 2011. TIME Magazine ranked it No. 7 in its list of top 50 websites.
The site also has spawned a breathtaking book, Dear Photograph, which features never-before-seen photos.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Taylor Jones, the founder and curator of Dear Photograph. Below, Jones shares how he started the site, why it’s struck a cord with so many, the submission that’ll always stay with him and much more.
1. I know you’ve probably answered this question hundreds of times, but can you tell me how Dear Photograph got started? What made you want to pick up the camera and capture that first image?
No matter how many times I tell the story of how Dear Photograph started it still is that surreal “moment” that changed everything for me. It all began May 25th, 2011 and I was sitting around the kitchen table looking through old photo albums with my family. I’ve always loved taking pictures and I love anything that is vintage. So going through old family albums and that whole feeling of nostalgia really intrigues me.
As I sat there turning the pages of photographs from so many years ago, I noticed my brother, Landon, was sitting in the chair in the exact same spot as the photo that he was pictured in from his 3rd birthday. I held up the photo from the past and lined it up with the present scene and suddenly the light bulb idea appeared and everything went in slow motion.
I ran around the house with various other old photos in hand, snapping picture after picture, capturing the scene that was taking me for a ride back in time. I knew I wanted to share this with my friends and that’s when I ran to my computer to upload the photo to Tumblr and responded to the invite of what I’d like to write for a caption.
I wondered what my brother would say to his picture if he could talk to that little guy back then. I typed out the salutation: “Dear Photograph, I wish I had as much swag then as I do now.” I posted it and five other photos that expressed my desire to reconnect with my past by taking me back in time, allowing me to relive the memory even for just a moment or two.
Friends loved the photos and began sharing them with their friends and they in turn did the same. I created a Twitter feed and Facebook profile. Hits were growing exponentially every day: 16 hits one day to 100 to 3000 and then suddenly a quarter million hits from Reddit.
People began submitting their photos and personal memories from around the world with the innate desire to revisit a time that was long gone. Mashable picked up Dear Photograph and my idea began to create unbelievable buzz in the media outlets around the world.
To even imagine that in three weeks DearPhotograph.com had gone viral was surreal and the first of many surreal moments to come.
2. Why do you think this concept resonates so much with readers?
I believe [it’s because] it allows each and every one of us from around the world to come together and share a special moment in someone’s life [which] shares something similar with our own memories.
The massive inflow of people’s personal photographs and stories has affected me in many ways. At first I thought it was just a cool photo blog. But I soon realized, as so many personal memories flooded my email, I had landed on something that was striking a chord with so many and resonating around the world.
The response to the site has really shown me there is a need for people to share and connect with each other worldwide. Cherished memories are bittersweet and I have also learned that there’s definitely a universal feeling or desire for people wanting to connect immediately by sharing their stories…
I think it’s amazing that DearPhotograph.com has allowed people to connect and reach out to one another, relating to each other’s personal stories regardless of age, race, color or culture. I love that part of it, seeing there are no borders or barriers holding us back from connecting with each other [and] on some sort of level realizing maybe we all want the same things.
I believe the emotional impact that comes with each photo and the caption ties it altogether and reaches out and touches a little piece of each of us in some way. Time travelling for a quick moment is possible via Dear Photograph and allows people to revisit a time…that we, in some way, identify with.
I think it also gives the present a little more perspective as to how we could do things differently or maybe just enjoy the moments right here and now. Nostalgia seems to play a big part in the whole emotional tug that Dear Photograph delivers.
3. How many submissions do you get a day, and how do you pick the photos that go on your site?
We get around five to 10 submissions daily. Each photo has a story or caption, so we look at the [entire submission] and that determines which one gets posted. It really comes down to the overall feeling that the photo and story deliver and what part of the story we want to share with readers. Definitely the time of year or special occasions influences the daily post as well as [if] we have the right photo and story to complement it.
4. What’s one submission that will always stay with you? Why?
So many photos and stories are so great and really have an impact on me, so it is hard to [pick]…I’m so privileged to be able to look into everyone’s little piece of history.
…[There is a photo] in the book [of a boy named] Kasey, who is running in his school race in [5th grade]. He is looking at the cemetery as he runs by.
A year later he would be buried in that same cemetery [after] a tragic fire…He was only 12 years old. The whole feeling his family had of wondering what kind of man he would be today and how life is fragile really hits you hard. That [stays] with me especially when [I think that] I am 23 and he would’ve been 24 years old today.
5. What do you want readers to take away from your book? What’s the message of Dear Photograph?
The message of Dear Photograph is really simple. It’s about taking time to reflect on the past, learning from each other’s windows to that past by remembering good times, hard times or simpler times. Hopefully it gives us a little reminder to live better right here and now so that memories aren’t only cherished but also created.
A good old-fashioned printed photo that you can actually hold in your hand is also invaluable. We have lost touch with the importance of printing pictures and rely heavily on uploading photographs.
Having a printed piece of your past has taken people back to the actual place where the original photograph was taken. People send emails all the time saying how they loved going there to take the picture of the past in the present.
6. Your work is incredibly creative. I’d love to know your thoughts or suggestions on cultivating creativity every day.
Cultivating creativity for me is all about giving [myself] permission to think outside the box and not worry about going with the flow. I’ve always been known to be a bit of a computer geek with a fascination for the latest and greatest [in] technology, always searching and thinking of the next thing.
I don’t think it’s productive to look over your shoulder [and focus on] what is all around and in front of you. So many great ideas are just so simple, including this one, yet not acted on.
I just thought [Dear Photograph] would be a cool photo blog and never imagined it would be a book and have so many people talking about it. I’m so grateful for that support and that I didn’t balk at the creative idea when it raced through my head a year ago.
I’ve had so many blogs before that didn’t fly and that didn’t shut down my creative edge; it only made me look further and listen to that little voice even more when an idea came my way. I carry around a little black book…and when an idea pops in my head, no matter what, I write it down.
7. Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like my readers to know that I am so grateful they share a love for DearPhotograph.com. It has been such a surreal and humbling experience to be the chief memory curator of so many people’s memories. And if [all of us] can just take time to enjoy [each] moment [here and now], because, after all, with the flash of a camera, suddenly you aren’t here anymore.
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Q&A with Taylor Jones, Founder & Author of Dear Photograph. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 10, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/qa-with-taylor-jones-founder-author-of-dear-photograph/