Why a butterfly, and the Importance of an old box from New Zealand

This is a very strange time isn't it? For some people, it is work as normal on the front line but with the added worries of this awful invisible virus. For others, families are separated, trying to get on the best they can and supporting those around them. For us, we are healthy thank goodness, and apart from homeschooling (🤯) we have found little pockets of time to do those jobs that we keep meaning to do.

For me, it that is sorting through one very special box.

When I talk to people about why I’m a Photographer, I always speak about the importance of printed photographs. When I was little, I remember looking through albums of photographs my Grandmother Nancy used to keep. She was good at keeping a record of holidays, journeys, and even the odd day in the garden pottering around. But she hated being photographed! So many times if someone had a camera out, she’d sneak behind a tree, or back inside the house in order to avoid the photograph, which while it was quite amusing at the time, has meant that photographs of her are rare. Luckily, as soon as I was given my first camera (by Grandma of course!) she started featuring more in photographs, which is lovely as I now have some to show my boys when I tell them stories about their Great-Grandma. Especially as she isn’t with us anymore - she left this world when I was 16.

As I got older, and when my brother and sister were little (and took up a lot of Mum and Dad’s attention!) I was the one with the camera capturing the action on holidays, days out and adventures. Contrary to some beliefs that while we’re taking photographs we are missing out on life, I find that seeing the world through a lens makes me really see what is going on, and has enhanced my memories, so still photographs in my hand now come alive in my mind. Cornish castles, rainy beaches with a wet dog, magical Christmas mornings, and summer day adventures with friends are all brought back to life on the opening of a shoe box. And I’m pretty sure that’s just how Grandma felt when she looked back on her photographs too.

A few months ago, Mum showed me a very old box of photographs, carefully returned to her by a wonderful relative from New Zealand. In 1974, Grandma’s brother Ted and his Wife Maria emigrated to Snells Beach, just north of Auckland, and over the following years, Grandma would send him photographs with her letters. As I looked through the old prints in the box, I saw images that I had never seen before, that followed our life stories. Photographs from before I was born, of myself as a baby with my Grandparents, toddling around Grandma’s house, exploring and growing. Sometimes, I recognised things from the images, because while some photographs had taken pride of place in Grandma’s albums, others from the same sets had made their way across the world. When my mother and I visited Uncle Ted in 2001 for the very first time, it was surreal but wonderful seeing framed photographs of our family around his sitting room, a room that we had never been in before! He passed away a few years ago, but not before I visited him once more in 2009 with my husband Andy. Of course with a camera in my hand!

But what one of the most precious gifts Grandma left with her photographs? She always used to write on the back of the photographs with dates, and sometimes names. At the time it seemed strange, of course we knew who was in the photographs! But it was for these very moments that she did.

With the introduction of digital cameras, it is now not often the case that we have envelopes of photographs to put in shoeboxes. We have our photographs on our hard drives, and our phones. But every few months, I print a handful of my favourite images that I have taken on my phone and get them printed out. Just in case. Some are sent out with christmas cards to friends and family spread around the country and further afield, some update the many scrapbook frames we have around our house, and some make it onto the kitchen walls. But importantly, some are left in their envelope, in a shoe box of my own under the bed, ready for the boys to look through on a rainy day in years to come. The magic of a shoebox of photographs is something that I can pass on.

And Grandma Nancy is the reason that my logo is a butterfly. She was such a part of my very early photography journey, that I wanted to include her beloved butterflies in my brand. And it’s quite fitting; as time goes on, we realise that moments are just that, moments. Colours, energy, feelings, emotions. A fleeting visit, just like that of a butterfly. But by taking a photograph, the beauty of that very moment can be captured forever.

With love, Rachel xx

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Rachel Thornhill ABIPP ASWPP LMPA  - Beautiful story-telling photography and stunning wall art for fun loving people, Rachel is an award-winning professional portrait Photographer based in Lower Kingswood / Tadworth, Surrey, UK.    Tel: +44 (0)1737 244745     

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