Studio Work / Documenting My Parents' Story

Studio Work—Documenting My Parents' Story (Design by Rhonda.H.Y.Mason)
Studio Work—Documenting My Parents' Story (Design by Rhonda.H.Y.Mason)
Studio Work—Documenting My Parents' Story (Design by Rhonda.H.Y.Mason)

Two years ago, on a Wednesday evening, my father emailed me a few snaps of some old photos that he’d found at their house.

One was of my beautiful mother in her twenties. The other two were of me as a baby in the old apartment that we lived in back in Hong Kong with my grandparents. These were photos that I’d never seen before! I could hardly believe it.

Naturally, I gave my dad strict instructions to bring me all the old photos he could find so that I could do something with them. It took him a few weeks to get them all boxed up but, one Friday afternoon, they finally arrived on my doorstep.

I wept gently that first night. There were so many that I had never seen before—or that I didn’t remember ever seeing before. Perhaps I may have flicked through them as a little girl, but they certainly didn’t mean as much to me then as they do to me now.

As I looked through every single photo, it dawned on me once more how little I actually knew of my parents’ past. It was almost like seeing them for who they were—who they are—for the first time.

And so began a monumental project. The project’s purpose? To discover and document both my parents’ stories. The end goal? A series of hard cover books that would include both photos and words.

I started off by looking through each and every photo. From there, I attempted to gather information and collect stories from my parents. Knowing which questions to ask still remains the hardest part of this project: questions that effectively draw out both factual information and emotional context.

Moving homes last year almost brought the project to a complete standstill. But earlier this year, in an attempt to make the project feel a little more ‘tangible’ to myself, I started combining photos with words to create mock-ups of what the page layouts would look like.

Using my Canon Pixma, I scanned in some of my favourite photos at the highest resolution possible. With these digital files, I used Adobe InDesign to create various page layouts featuring white space, clean typography, and a minimalist design.

Being able to see these layouts in front of me gives me the motivation to persevere with this project. Indeed, I suspect that is what will continue to drive me—seeing the final product on my bookshelf (and my parents’ bookshelf) in my mind’s eye. As I often used to say to my students: begin with the end in mind, always. 

There is still a long way to go, but I’m not about to give up.

I feel a bit like my dad in one of the photos: taking a leap of faith.

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You can read the other posts in this series here.