Peoples Temple Photo Site Expands in Scope and Organization

by Laura Johnston Kohl

From a small and frustratingly-random collection of photographs a little over a year ago, the Peoples Temple Photo Gallery on Flickr has grown and developed into a powerful document of Temple life. There are almost 1500 photos now available for all to see. Many have been grouped into Sets, ranging from life in Redwood Valley to the first trip to Guyana in 1974, to life in Jonestown in 1977-1978.

Those of us working on the site often receive emails from people who have seen the photos and who have learned much. It is true that, in general, pictures are worth a thousand words. But these pictures are worth more. They can give surviving family members another look at their loved ones. These family members can see the richness and vigor of the community. Most importantly, they can offer a photo to keep of their beloved child, or family member, sometimes the only photo available anywhere. That treasure can’t be quantified.

So, why are the photos such treasures? The loss of our families, our friends, and our dreams in Jonestown was a cloud that covered the sun and hid any light. For years, we had to work steadily to find some holes in that cloud to get some brightness. The photos do several things. For one thing, they show that people were mostly happy and invigorated to work towards their dream. Jim’s mental health continued to deteriorate, but our daily life in Jonestown was not torturous. We were all optimists and idealists, and our loyalty had transferred to making the community succeed. In that effort, we saw the community thrive and come closer to self-sufficiency. Many of us loved the community and would have happily stayed there after Jim’s demise, had that been an option. The community wasn’t poisonous. The mental illness affecting Jim, and then infecting those around him, became the plague that ended in the lost lives of our loved ones.

The pictures show all of that and more. Our friends and family shouldn’t be forgotten. Looking at the wonderful photographs on flickr.com, you can see so much of the satisfaction and wonder felt as we built our community. The photos just add a different depth of understanding about Jonestown.

In the year to come, the manager of the Flickr site will work with this larger Jonestown website to incorporate the images into the Gallery page. In that way, visitors to the site will have that many more photographic resources to explore.

(Laura Johnston Kohl, who had lived in Jonestown but was working in Georgetown on 18 November, died on 19 November 2019 after a long battle with cancer. She was 72. Her writings for this website appear here.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on December 28th, 2021.
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