…funk for the old soul…

When Photos Meant Something

Posted by crowbiz on May 18, 2009



My parents, Pat & Elmer, on their honeymoon, 1947

My parents, Pat & Elmer, on their honeymoon, 1947

Here’s an experience that is rapidly disappearing:  holding a photo in your hand, and then having to put it somewhere, that is, finding a place to keep it.  I’m not in any way photo-literate enough to do a thoughtful essay (already covered by many experts and others, and filling many volumes and web pages) about how our relationship to photography has changed over time.  I’ve got just a regular person’s love-hate thing with photos, and to boot, I’m old enough to remember Instamatic cameras, four-sided disposable flashbulbs and how to load a roll of film (film-using cameras have been deemed one of many “vanishing” items in America, along with alleyways, maple syrup, pit toilets and others).



Remember, a frame of film was a single entity that you had one and only one chance with.  You had to pick your shot very carefully so as not to waste film.  Life’s footage was carefully measured out in 12 or 24 shots, or if you splurged, maybe 36.  Vacations were extra tricky, since you had to bring enough film with you.  Uh oh, you blew five shots trying to catch that deer at your campsite, so now you have only two left for the Grand Canyon.  It made you have to THINK and PLAN.  Sometimes you had to wait a while to use up the whole roll of film in the camera; there was that looong stretch between the summer picnic and Christmas when, according to any available photo records, it seemed that all life had just ceased.  Then you had to send the film to be processed, which could take days.  Eagerly, you’d rip open the pack of finished photos to find – goddamn it all! – Grandma had her eyes closed!  Or, your F-ing thumb was in the way in three shots!  Either way, you’d usually keep every photo, every Grandma Blinker and thumb dud, and arrange it into something.  A sticky photo album, a shoe box, or maybe plasticy sleeves.  In the old days, photo albums were substantial, important seeming things of black paper, with photos held in at their wavy edges by little black photo corners.  Photo corners can still be purchased – at the suburban big-box craft stores where all types of products are available to create an ersatz past (don’t forget to glue the chipboard “Memories” embellishment to the cover of your fake old-fashioned album, just in case you aren’t sure what photos are).  Polaroid cameras offered instant gratification, but they were rarer and the film was expensive and came in even smaller units, so it was a heavy trade-off.

Nowadays, we snap with abandon, which is a fine thing.  It’s for good reason that I did not categorize film as an Old Thing, Corny Thing, Good Thing, because frankly, using film in older cameras sucked for a lot of people, plus I like having second, third and fourteenth chances.  Photographer friends, you are free to take me to task about this later, but wait until I have a drink in my hand, and remember that I’m a average dolt and I wear corrective lenses.  

However, I sense a funny gap wherein our photo sensibilities have not quite caught up with our photo abilities.  We take lots of shots. Lots. Digitally, you can save or trash immediately – so why don’t people get rid of more?  No need to save Blinky Granny, flashed-out faces, thumb-blocks and blurs.  So how the heck do they end up all over the web?  Every- and anyone with a camera posts online now, and a quick tour of any website, blog (ahem), MySpace, Flickr and what have you will show that people simply cannot self-edit.  We already know the loss of this skill is endemic in our culture, otherwise television programming would dwindle to M*A*S*H re-runs and the weather report, not to mention blogs (ahem, a little something in my throat this morning) would barely exist.  Could you at least pretend that you have only 24 shots and you have to pick which of your 725 from this weekend will make the cut?   

It would seem that people still feel the need to keep photos, somehow, as we did in the old days, as a priceless reminder of something.  Because it happened and because you were there.  Too bad the rest of us have to stumble on them so often. The first person to whine, “No one’s forcing you to look at other people’s photos, so if you don’t want to see them, you don’t have to go online and blah blah blah” gets sprayed in the face with a power washer (look, if I’m going to be a voyeur, I at least want to see stuff worth voy…ing).  It’s as if we haven’t recognized that we have the fabulous ability to document as much as we want, then – strike the gong of empowerment – choose!  

I’m very glad to have a few photos of my parents as little kids in the late 1920s.

Are you very glad you have a shot of the back of your friend’s head in a dark, fuzzy room full of people you don’t know at that boring party you were just leaving?

Self-promo Alert!

My often neglected Flickr stream.  Yes, there are photos of trash and feces.  Imagine that in grandma’s album.


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