This I Believe

Stefani Twyford - Houston, Texas
Entered on June 26, 2008
Age Group: 50 - 65
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I believe in the power of the family story. It can connect generations and open a space for personal healing.

Everyone, no matter who he or she is, has a story to tell that is of profound value to their families and the generations that follow.

My father, Martin Elkort, is a street photographer whose major body of work was shot in the late 1940s and early 1950s in New York City. During this post-war and post-depression period, NY was abuzz with immigrants carving out a new life for themselves. My father, an art school student and junior member of the New York Photo League, spent his days wandering the neighborhoods of that city, unobtrusively looking down into his Roloflex camera so that his subjects wouldn’t know he was shooting them. He captured people going about their lives and his pictures are a joyous celebration of hope and possibility, a 180-degree contrast to many of the austere photos of that time period.

Almost 60 years after they were shot, my father’s photos are widely collected for the glimpses they provide into a world that no longer exists. Each image deftly captures the mood, the emotion, and the history of the time and place.

I didn’t realize how much growing up among these photos influenced me until my own career path brought me to a video version of storytelling. A culmination of all my varied skills and my father’s inspiration, I started a business in 2003 that involves interviewing people and helping them capture their own stories in a way that preserves their family history for future generations. I am a video biographer.

Each time I coax a story out of a client, I am excited at the richness of each person’s experience. When the son or daughter of a subject says, “I’ve never heard that! How did you get that story out of her?” I glow inside and feel that I have worked the magic that is my job. I rejoice when extended families get together to watch the video biographies we’ve created for them. And when I hear how many boxes of tissues were needed while viewing the video, a part of me gets emotional, even though it isn’t my family or my story.

It’s an honor and a privilege to help people tell their stories and put it down on a medium that will last. I know that when a great-grandchild asks, “Who was my great-grandfather?” there will be not only a photo and a story, but the child will hear his great grandfather’s voice, see his mannerisms, and hear his stories first-hand.

For those who have the forethought to capture their story, I know the legacy passed on to each succeeding generation will be invaluable. In this I believe.