Thursday, June 21, 2012

Worth a Thousand Words?

On Father's Day, a friend of mine who is about the same age as my older daughters, linked to an album on Facebook which was a sort of retrospective of her husband from their early marriage to the present. It was very nice seeing him with their five children as they were born and grew older.

My first thought was what a good idea she had had.

My second thought was that if I did that, it would take up about three times the space.

My third thought was, “Oh no, it wouldn’t!”

Way too easy to destroy pictures.
The reason for this is that I remembered that digital pictures were not around when we got married. In fact, in 1971 when we got married, disposable cameras were 15 years in the future. We had to actually put the film in the camera and take it out when we had taken the pictures. And, if you forgot to roll it up before you opened the back of the camera, all the film was over-exposed. And, it took forever to get them developed. And who could have afforded to pay to develop the hundreds, thousands of pictures that people take now?

Not my husband
So, although we took a lot of pictures, I’m not sure that I could dredge up even 20 pictures of my husband from the early years of our marriage. He was the photographer and he was really good at avoiding being photographed himself. I can’t remember any pictures of him playing with the children, although he did play with the children. There just wasn’t a cellphone lying around to take a picture with. If by some strange chance there had been a cellphone around, it certainly wouldn’t have had a camera in it, but it would have large enough to use to beat someone senseless.

I’ve wondered a lot about whether taking pictures of people doesn’t result in your only remembering the pictures and not the thousands of other moments that occurred at any particular event. Do you remember the birthday party or only pictures of the birthday party? And would you be able to picture it in your mind at all if you didn’t have the pictures to remind you?

Now, of course, you can also record things on your phone. My daughter has hours of videos of her daughter learning to walk, talk, swinging, singing, you name it. It reminds me of the few vacations we took with my father’s huge VHS recorder. She really liked being both behind and in front of the camera. We had a great tape of our vacation in New Orleans which included a conversation with a really interesting old guy who worked on the trolley line, but it wasn’t 24 hours before someone recorded Three Men and a Baby on top of it.



  1. Who mourns the loss of the negative?
    Photography has always been about money. All the energy is in digital photography and the latest camera/cutest color Iphone....and manufacturers are right there with them. Isn't there a scene in the Divine Comedy of people perpetually chasing the banner of change?

    The negative, for all its extra handling needs, contains far more information density than a digital image. If you have a negative, you can always get a print. The present is in danger of disappearing due to "failed media storage" or simply a "programming architecture" no longer in existence.

    The images that languish at the back of the drawer, the tintype of that Civil War soldier, the negative of your immigrant grandparent proudly showing his tomato plants, were actually there in their presents.
    The negative is the direct link to your past.

  2. You're absolutely right about that, Bill. If current digital images survive for more than a few decades, it will be because people make a conscious effort to move them forward into new technological environments. You can't just put them in a file and come back in a hundred years and take them out and look at them. Although *in theory* the 1s and 0s could live indefinitely without any deterioration whatsoever, while film has physical limits.

    Still, I have personally really enjoyed digital photography, because I always wanted to dabble in photography but couldn't afford to experiment.

    Love those illustrations, Janet. I have to admit I lament the demise of Kodak.

  3. Steve and I used to play in photography. Half the fun was anxiously awaiting for the pictures to come in. We could never wait until we got home to look at them. Then we learned to develop our own. Each picture we took was carefully crafted from beginning to end. They were special. Not that our digital pictures today aren't special - just in a different way.

  4. B&W or color? Where did you do it? Bill always had access to a B&W darkroom, so lots of our pictures of the kids are ones that he developed.

    I do like to mess around with digital pictures to get what I want. What I really hate is when people stretch a picture to make it fit their space. Augh!


  5. Just reading this. If you notice, there are 20 pictures, over 14 yrs. That's roughly 1.5 pictures a year. That is literally all the pictures I could find of him, because he too, was always the photographer. I so appreciated all the pictures my dad took, and still look at them sometimes, with my kids, when we go to their house. I do think without those pictures, I wouldn't remember half of what happened to me. And that's being generous.

  6. With me, I have clearer, realer memories (with sounds and smells and textures) of things that aren't on photographs. When things are on photographs I just remember the photograph. Having said which, there are probably plenty of things I don't remember at all, which I would at least have a record of if they had been photographed.

  7. I guess my memory cells have been destroyed by the microwave, darn it all.

  8. Well, I guess the advantage of modern technology is that you can get your memory cells destroyed really quickly.


  9. Cleans faster and deeper!