The Way They Were: Photographs of Our Parents

March 1, 2010

My dad (fourth from right), Victoria Park, Hong Kong, 1960s

In recent years, I've revisited our family photo albums and have become fascinated with old photographs of my parents. They're some of my most favorite objects now. It goes without saying, we have never known our parents before they were parents. Looking at the photos, we see how they were, perhaps before they had met each other and before we were even a twinkle in their eye. They look so innocent, so fresh-faced! My dad had wavy hair! My mom wore bikinis! It adds a completely new dimension of relatability. Yes, it's true, our parents used to be YOUNG ADULTS.

For me, these photos are a rare glimpse at their life before family. They don't talk about those days much and I don't think I've ever seen old video footage of my parents. With the hyper-documentation and sharing going on these days, I doubt our kids will have anything left to wonder about us.

The Hyphen staff shared the following collection of photographs of their parents, aunties & uncles, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. Some photos were taken in America and some before immigrating. If you have photos of your parents you'd like to share, we'd love to see them! Please e-mail a jpg to [at] for a follow-up blog posting.

Enjoy these treasures!

Creative Director Erica's mom, Taiwan, 1966


Events Director Lanlian's pa, Tahoe, 1970s

Lanlian's grandpa and aunts

Managing Editor Lisa Macabasco's po po, Texas, 1940s


Erica's dad (the smoker), Yokohama, Japan, 1956


Blog Editor erin's dad, Viet Nam, 1963

Blogger Catherine's mom (bottom right), Bicol province, Philippines, mid-70s

Copy Editor Elizabeth's great grandmother (the bag lady), Niigata, Japan, 1950s

Streetteamer Shari's grandma, Sri Lanka, 1940s


Lanlian's dad and aunts and uncles





I love looking at all these photos! Old photos of my parents are some of my most treasured items as well. 

This reminds me of a story we did way back in issue in which a Houston artist took photos of moms (before they became moms) and made them into buttons to wear. (Full disclosure: the artist is a friend of mine.)

I used an old photo of my mom in the video I just made:


I love that you put this together! And Catherine's mom doesn't look a bit different!


I don't know any of the staff here, but these pictures are saturated with layers, besides the layers of family history inherent in the images. I feel like attaching nostalgia to afflictions that live in the past, even though these afflications create new layers for the present. Photography seduces us to belong, urges us to be part of the picture, even if our enemies and rivals are in the picture. Photography even tempts us to look at the world with eyes of innocence, not photos taken for the sake of art, but the other kind, those meant for intimate keepsakes. There's a lot of information in the place where the people are at caught by the shots, suggestions of loss, suffering, fleeting happiness, and arrays of disintegrations for future children and generations to recover, own, or disown.