O P I N I O N
Remember photographs? Those images, printed on photographic paper, that started as film in your camera, sent away to be developed or dropped off at the local Fotomat (or later your drug store) to be returned as pictures in a matter of days? (No instant gratification back then).
And if your family was anything like mine, no matter how hard we tried to organize them, they eventually found their way into a box every-which-way to be looked at on very few occasions. And as the years went by, those occasions became fewer. And the subject of many, if not most of those photos, your own children, had less and less interest in seeing themselves as they grew through the years. And then came digital cameras. The box stopped filing.
But back to photographs.
During Covid, during an organizational phase, I took all of those years of family photos and divided them (okay, tossed them) into piles: mine, spouse, child #1, child #2, both children together. And then after that, crazy as I was during that time, I spent countless hours putting these piles of photos into what I hoped was time order, which was the most challenging part of the project (was she 6 in that photo or 8?). And then I put each group into a large, marked plastic zip bag and tossed those bags back into the box to make perusing them all the easier in the future.
Yes, some of those photographs have faded a bit (a lot), are tattered at the edges, and were out of focus, but you could hold each one in your hand, think or talk about the story surrounding it, and smile, before passing it around and looking at the next one.
For me, looking at digital images and their millions of pixels just isn’t the same. Sure you have those photo USB sticks that suck every single .jpg, .gif or other photo image from your computer and smartphone and you can sort them to no end and print the ones you want, but I don’t think it compares to sitting on the floor and touching and really looking at actual photographs.
I took my first black-and-white photos with a Brownie camera where you looked down at the lens to see your subject; and you even had to insert and roll the 110 film inside the camera in the dark. I wasn’t alone. Millions of Brownie cameras were sold to a hungry consumer population.
I also remember the Swinger Instamatic camera by Polaroid. I wanted one so bad (remember the jingle? “Meet the Swinger, the Polaroid Swinger. Lift it up, it says ‘yes’….) Even though the picture-taking process seemed a bit messy, I didn’t care and was highly disappointed when my Chanukah gift in sixth grade was an AM/FM transistor radio. Where was my camera?! I opened that darn radio, hoping against hope my parents had stuffed my Swinger camera inside (what was I thinking?)
The next camera on the scene for us took, gulp, actual color photos, loaded automatically and used flash cubes to lighten dark areas. Boy, weren’t those cool! You took a roll of that cartridge film, dropped it off at the local Kodak Fotomat, or later, the drug store, and just a week or so later, you had your color prints! Amazing.
And then everyone placed each individual photograph lovingly in those fat spiraled photo albums, noting the date each was taken and who was in the picture. Unfortunately, I was not one of those people; There are no pictures of other kids with mine whose names and date was scrawled on the back. We had no recollection of who they were or where the photo was taken. Oh well, I imagine they, too, are grown up with kids of their own, and can’t recall who my kids are in their own growing-up photos.
It was just two weeks ago that I sat on the basement floor with my 35-year-old daughter looking at photos from “her” plastic bag (where she was the only one in the picture) and “their bag,” where both daughters were in the same photo. Enough time had passed that I felt comfortable allowing her to select photos to take to her own home (really?!). She had photos from her wedding, after all, but non-professional photos from her Bat Mitzvah, her “goth” years, of friends whose names she no longer recalls, Girl Scouts, camp, pre-school, and birthdays…. Yes, I was ready to share some of them with her.
And all those photos of her first year of life! Who didn’t take hundreds of infant pictures, particularly of child number one? In addition to the normal hundreds of shots of her as an infant, I had the duplicates that I had sent to my mom so she wouldn’t miss every goofy thing she did with SpaghettiOs®. And I must admit (bad mom!), there were several infant shots that I couldn’t tell which daughter they were. One- and two-month-old photos of a baby’s face sortta look the same to me, and I was only able to determine who was who by what they were wearing or who was holding them, or my older daughter told me.
My other daughter has kids in her home (as well as two dogs, a hamster, and a brand-new kitty; the fish died). Of course, being the 21st century, all the appropriate family photos are taken with her and her spouse’s cell phones, posted on Facebook (or whatever other social media platform she uses). Very easy to put them in date order (All of the info is available with the right click of a mouse), but even as they rotate through (I don’t know how to do that), it doesn’t feel the same for me. A three-second look isn’t the same as actually touching a real photo for as long as you want, listening to the story surrounding it, laughing, and then moving on to the next one.
We’ve all heard of the businesses that take those photographs and digitalize them individually to safe-keep them for you in the cloud or on a small USB thing. I supposed that’s a good idea in case your house goes up in flames (heaven forbid!), but besides costing a lot of money to change them into pixels, it’s not the same. (I have been known to take a cell phone photo of a photo to share — my wedding picture to share with friends so they can say “You look exactly the same!” and my 2- and 3-year-old daughters dressed for Halloween for one of their workplace employee activities.) So I’ll pass; maybe I’ll just take a photo of each photograph as my “just in case” and save several hundred dollars.
So if you have several hours to kill to look at someone else’s children over the years, you are welcome to come to my basement to look, handle, hear the story, and laugh.