The Rise of the Photo Reuniters: Reconnecting People With Their Portraits

A collection of vintage black-and-white photographs featuring various formal portraits of individuals, couples, and families in traditional attire from the late 19th to early 20th century. Some images show wedding scenes, while others depict formal family gatherings.

Photo reuniting, where people track down subjects of old photos and reunite them or their family with the images, is a growing trend, according to ABC News Australia.

The broadcasting company from Down Under recently featured Jessia Dowell who turned to photo reuniting as a positive way to focus her energy after a personal tragedy.

Dowell has collected thousands of old photos from landfill sites, house clearances, and even charity shops. She has no idea who the people are in them but tries to track them down via her Instagram page The Lost Portrait Archive.

In one instance, Dowell had a sepia photo of a woman holding a baby animal which had a smuged stamp on the back which led her to the town of Hay in the Australian state of New South Wales. She put it up on the local Facebook page and got a message from the subject’s daughter saying she “had never seen the photo before” adding that it is now “really special to her family.”

A Popular Pastime

Away from Australia, Texas-based content creator Dan Rodo will buy boxes of photos at auction and then attempt to reunite them with the subjects.

Rodo will buy a box with hundreds of Kodachrome slides and look for clues in the photos. For example, the names of places that might be hidden somewhere in the image. Or he will look for the same person across different scenes to build a picture of the social connections that exist between all of the characters.

@shotandforgot New box loaded with clues! Do you think we can find this family? #mystery #photography #art #nostalgia #vintage #35mm #retro #unboxing ♬ original sound – Shot & Forgot

“When you get a break and you’re like, ‘I found them, I know who their name is’, it’s bigger than anything else,” Rodo tells ABC News. “And then when you can return them and how thankful these families are … that is an unbelievable feeling.”

Another photo reuniter, David Gutenmacher from Long Island, New York, says he has accumulated over 50,000 photos in the form of prints, albums, memory cards, VHS tapes, undeveloped film, and more.

Gutenmacher uses social media to track down the subjects writing in The Guardian that the quickest he ever found someone was just two minutes while the longest is around four months.

“People are often quite emotional when we get in touch — most of these items are lost after a house move or a family death: the people clearing someone’s stuff don’t always know what they’re getting rid of,” he writes.

“Sometimes people donate a camera to a charity shop and forget to take the memory card out. I’ve also heard stories about lost or stolen bags, or people having to sell the contents of their storage units.”

There is a risk involved in photo reuniting: What if the family wants nothing to do with the subjects of the picture because of some fark incident that has happened in the past?

Dowell tells ABC that most of the photos are of joyful occasions such as weddings and her reuniting work has been a positive thing. Rodo adds that he has “come across negative stuff” but always tried to keep his “morals in check” and is cautious about how he goes about his business.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.