Recently, I began sorting through a bin of pictures that my mother has. This bin is full of pictures that were my grandfathers, my grandmothers, and my own mothers photos from over the years. There are hundreds of memories, many of them lost to time, sitting in this bin just waiting to be sorted out and possibly discarded.
Looking through these photos has stirred up something inside of me. There is just something about these snapshots in time that were once so important that someone felt the need to try and archive it. These little moments of people eating dinner, showing off a new house, coming back from the war, or just laughing and smiling. Two generations of moments, tucked in an organized and dusty bin, left to be forgotten.
There is something magical about picking up these photos and instantly being able to date them. Some of the photos are 4×6 and come from my childhood. Others are black and white and much smaller, but on much thicker paper. Some of the photos are crystal clear, while others have that hazy look to them. Not a single photo is perfect that I’ve run across, but that doesn’t matter.
One of my favorite photos is one of me and my grandfather as I attempt to put bunny ears on him. Both of our heads are turned, the camera angle isn’t great, and its not the clearest of images. But in this moment, capture in time, I can feel the authenticity. I can zoom out, like a fly on the wall, as my jolly grandfather played with me and maybe even tried to set up for a proper photo. My being shy and a bit of a smart ass, insisted on giving him bunny ears, which only made him laugh, and also probably my mother who took the photo. The photo was not perfect, but the moment was even if I don’t remember it. It’s what the photo reveals to me, or at least the story I surround with the photo.
Photos are like little time machines, that take you back to someplace that we have all lost. Someplace that we all wish to be again. I find myself nostalgia for old photos of Christmas dinners from the 1950’s, which I was never apart of. It’s amazing what a good photograph can do.
When I look at these old photos, I don’t see wasted shots. I don’t find six attempts at one angle and six more at a slightly different one. Things are touched up or edited or even fabricated like they are today. What you see is what you get and the most falsehood you will find is in fake smiles and carefully arranged food items on a table or presents around a Christmas tree.
It makes me wonder if we lost something in our attempts at capturing the perfect shot and instead of just archiving the messy life as we see it. Is there a bit of humanity washed away in the sanitized and over glamorized attempts at documenting our lives. Is nothing really, real anymore?
The single most impactful part of sorting through these photos is having something I can hold in my hand. I never realized how much I missed that. Sure, one might argue that this disorganized bin of photos is exactly why things went digital, but I counter with how dusty would your old digital photos be had they been printed out? How often do you look at them or enjoy them or do they just rot in the cloud somewhere, only pulled out for the occasional moment?
I sometimes feel that we have everything at our fingertips and equally we have absolutely nothing. As my life has continued to become more and more digital, I wonder what is left. Has the feeling of instant gratification overtaken the pleasure of waiting and anticipation? Do I get as much joy out of the nice digital photos I take as I would waiting for them to be developed and anticipating the results? I’m sure for a professional photographer the answer would be yes, because the images are instant, editable, and cheap. But for sure regular folks, who are just navigating through life on a day-to-day basis, has the progression been for the betterment of everyone? I’m not so sure.
If you can’t hold something does it truly have value? Is it even really yours?