Skip to main content

Photographer finds personal connection with 1917 family album

Email share
Roddy holds Nina's family album in front of the antique mall
(Photo: Roddy MacInnes)

Editor's note: This Colorado Voices story was produced by senior journalism student Linneya Gardner as part of an ongoing partnership between Rocky Mountain PBS' Colorado Voices series and the University of Denver.

DENVER — When Roddy MacInnes walked into a Denver antique mall 27 years ago, he didn’t know what he would discover.

It was a family album from 1917 that took him on a personal journey for the next 15 years, as he became more familiar and connected with the faces and places in each photograph.

The photographer’s name, Nina Weiste, was written inside the album. As a photographer himself, Roddy was drawn to the stranger and has since found her to be his most influential teacher.

Colorado Voices

Photographer Finds Personal Connection with 1917 photographs


A trip to an antique mall 27 years ago was the beginning of a 15 year journey for MacInnes

It was through the happenstance of finding Nina’s album that Roddy gained a sense of purpose as a photographer. He traveled to North Dakota, the setting of Nina’s photos, and developed his own project on family portraits . He developed a relationship with the community there and was able to reflect on family memories of those in the community, of Nina and of himself.

“I worked with the residents of a retirement community there and when I walked into one of the resident’s rooms, there were probably 25 to 30 photographs on her walls,” recalled Roddy. “All of the important people and all of the important events in her life had been condensed into about 25 photographs. I had this realization that what we have left in the end, if we’re lucky, are memories and photographs represent memories.”

With Nina as a guiding spirit, Roddy continued to build relationships with and photograph the community there. It was through that process that he learned more about Nina and gained a better understanding of what his project was truly about: his family album intersecting with Nina’s.

Roddy created a memorial around Nina’s grave with candles and photographs from her album. (Photo: Roddy MacInnes)

After Roddy completed his project in 2017, he thought his relationship with Nina was over. However, her influence on his life prevails to this day and inspires him to further the theme of connection through family photographs.

The inspiration for his new project came after finally finding Nina’s grave, which he spent 15 years searching for. Her headstone is in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, close to where Roddy found Nina’s photographs in the antique mall. Roddy knew his journey with Nina wasn’t over after all .

“I created a memorial to her with a display of some of the photographs she had taken in North Dakota by positioning them around her gravesite,” described Roddy. “That’s when I came up with the idea to re-contextualize family photographs by scanning them, enlarging them and putting them back in the landscape.”

Nina’s family migrated from Northern Finland to Ishpeming, Michigan in 1880, staying there for two years. They then moved to  South Dakota but shortly thereafter  moved to North Dakota , where Nina was born.

These three places not only represent Nina’s life but also connect to Roddy’s. Like Nina, he is an immigrant who moved from Scotland to  Ishpeming, Michigan.

South Dakota and Finland have personal meaning to Roddy, as he feels Nina’s spirit has directed him to those places. Roddy shows these deep connections by enlarging photographs of Finnish women settlers and re-photographing them back in the landscapes of these locations.

Scans of Finnish women settlers that Roddy will re-photograph in the landscape. (Scans/photos: Roddy MacInnes) 

His project, called One Thing Leads to Another, represents how people and places are interconnected in ways we don’t often realize. Even Roddy is still learning new ways he is connected to Nina.

Roddy moved to Denver in 1981. Four years later, Nina passed away.

“I was based in Wheat Ridge where Nina also lived and I’ve thought maybe I passed Nina in a grocery store or something,” reflects Roddy. “But if I had actually met Nina, the project wouldn’t have happened. There’s something about the mystery and the way things are connected in ways we least expect them, and maybe she couldn’t have been my spirit guide had I met her in person .”

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!