My first camera, a basic Kodak, was a Christmas gift, a costly gift, when I think about it now, in time and coinage. One had to purchase film, snap the allotted pictures, take the film into a store that would develop it, and pick up the pictures when they were ready. You paid for every photo, the pic of your grandparents with grandpa’s head cut off, the pic of your grandparents where you almost sliced grandma clean away, and the pic of your foot (Seriously, I loved my grandparents. I just sucked at taking pictures). There was excitement happening when you retrieved those photos and you were pleased if some of them turned out to be semi-worthy of the time that went into their creation. You slapped them into a coil bound, self-adhesive photo album and, if you’re anything like me, hardly ever looked at them again. Sometimes, you left the used film sitting for so long, you didn’t even know what was on it anymore.
Then came the scrapbookers, those hearty, diligent, creative types determined to preserve family memories safely and beautifully for generations to come. A whole industry grew up around scrapbooking selling everything from albums to acid free papers and adhesives, stencils for cropping, specialized scissors, beads, bows, and baubles, and a rainbow’s assortment of fadeproof, waterproof pens. Scrapbooking clubs formed, classes were taught, and cruises were launched and are still going on despite internet offerings such as Blurb, Shutterfly, or Heritage Makers where digital photos are grouped online using elegant templates, bound into books, and shipped direct. I suspect some people still want to work with their hands, to touch things, to choose from an array of resources, rather than a standard few, in order to customize their memories. They want to leave not just their pictures behind, but their love, energy, and imagination, something a store bought book can never put forth.
We’ve been taking pictures of anything and everything since 1826 according to PetaPixel. Who among us hasn’t taken a zillion photos of our offspring, especially our firstborn? We’re like children holding up their first attempt at drawing a stick figure. We wave those photos in our friends faces and splash them across their timelines as if to say, “Look what I made!” Sadly, the volume of pictures diminishes with every child due to life’s hectic, relentless rolling onward and probably carpal tunnel syndrome.
But, no matter, because where there is parental slippage, the school will often come through and aren’t we fortunate this is the case! Cheers to all those school photographers for laying down all that homeliness: the polyester pantsuits and striped cowl necks, the curl on the tippy top of my head that I asked for, my brothers achingly uneven bangs, the buckteeth. They must have cringed when they saw me coming.
The three P’s. Pamela, Polly, and Perry
There were three approaches a photographer would take with me and my rabbitty incisors. One was, as above, to encourage me to smile with my lips pursed. I like to call it the happy face smile. One was the “what can I possibly do with that in the limited time I have” approach, below right, where he told me to smile like all the others, took the picture, and called out, “Next!” The other approach was to ask me to bring my bottom lip up over my front teeth, as if it was possible to camouflage them, making me look like Bubba of Forrest Gump fame. I’ve posted these for your critique and amusement. (I know. Ach. The hair, the hair!)
Which approach do you think won the day?
We have boxes, drawers, and now cameras, USB sticks, and computer files full of family photos, everyone clean and coiffed, lined up and posed, arms around waists, hands on shoulders and knees, kids on laps, and babes in arms. Like dogs, we mark our territory; the Grand Canyon, the beach, in front of the elephant at the zoo, at picnics in the park, and family reunions.
We do our best to hold still, look into the camera, and smile on command, but the more folks involved, the more impossible it’s to catch everyone at their best. People get distracted in a crowd, even one that has a purpose. Someone’s always looking elsewhere or forming a word, eyes are half-closed, lips twisted mid-smile, children wiggling, picking their noses, and crying, which often signals the end of the session. There’s always someone looking dopey when everyone else looks good. Some families take it to a whole new level wearing matching outfits or costumes and inviting their pets and stuffed animals into the viewfinder.
We mark the important days, too, with the appropriate attire, the wedding finery, the cap, tassel, and gown, the solemn suits and subdued dresses. I remember having an engagement picture taken by our wedding photographer. My fiance was told to lean back against the trunk of a tree. I was asked to sit between his legs and then allow my own legs to fall open in a diamond shape…and he took the picture. Yeppers. A picture was taken of me lying down outside with my legs hangin’ open. This pose couldn’t have been more awkward and unflattering. Just describing it to you makes me want to giggle nervously and squeeze my legs together, but we did as directed. I was wearing red shorts and the focal point of that photo was my red crotch. This was taken before there were shredders. I ripped that picture to smithereens.
Many of us aren’t content with these orchestrated shots. We want to carve out a slice of reality. We take pictures when people are unaware, without their permission. Like the time I took a picture of my sister sleeping on some family road trip, her freshly permed head lolling back, her mouth gaping and then threatened to show it to her new boyfriend. Or the time my brother-in-law took stealth snaps of everyone at the family reunion gnawing on cobs of corn, all poised beaver teeth and greasy faces. I was so glad I didn’t have corn that day!
A good wedding photographer will capture people talking, laughing, and dancing, moments of movement and connection, moments where real life is happening as opposed to still life.
A good professional photographer will capture once in a lifetime moments, moments the rest of us would never see because we don’t trek to remote locations, wait patiently in adverse conditions, and expertly operate expensive camera equipment at the right time. They’re the curious among us, alert and attuned to their surroundings. They stop and look where we ignore and pass by. They zoom in to examine detail. They pull back to take in drama. They look critically to excavate hidden beauty. Once they’ve unearthed the good stuff, their eyes and hands are trained to work together to produce the best image. Their judgement, as to what to include in the frame, is impeccable.
They come up with most amazing shots; an eagle soaring, its massive, feathered wingspan spread across an azure sky, a hawk that’s literally on the tale of a petrified mouse, a great whale arcing gracefully out of the surf, the bold face of a mountain mirrored in the serene, blue stillness of a lake, a secluded meadow bursting with multicolored flowers, the buttery sun melting into the waves on the sea.
I especially love those photographers who see the beauty in old things, a weathered door, a run-down, falling down barn, a dilapidated
junker rusted to a camouflage fatigue-like sheen. (As an aside, I wish we could appreciate age in human beings in the same way, as something earned and beautiful rather than something to be scorned, feared, and run from.) Professional photographers and photog hobbyists are better at taking pictures than we are and we love them for it. They aren’t just taking pictures, they purvey and display the artwork of God.
Now, with the introduction of the digital camera and the dawn of the internet our picture taking habits have changed and pictures are everywhere. Instagram, Imgur, and Flickr, along with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms, have made it possible for us to share our lives in pictures. We can even alter them to our liking using photo editing sites like Pixlr, Fotor, or PicMonkey. These prompts, along with the handy dandy phone camera, have urged us to document our morning coffee, our fine dining experience, our “I’m in Hawaii and you’re not” shots, our recent bowel movements, and our fave thrift store finds and post them all for the pleasure and/or groans of friends and strangers alike.
Why do we do this? I’ll tell you what I think and please feel free to let me know what you think in the comments section:
- It’s a clawing at time, trying to stop that which speeds by us with little notion of us. It’s a small bid for immortality.
- It’s a way to put a memory on paper; a visual reminder of the past.
- It’s a way for us to ascribe value to people, pets, occasions, and things.
- It’s a way for us to express ourselves and share our experiences.
- It’s a way for us to communicate our wealth and happiness or our minimalism or whatever lifestyle we subscribe to.
- It’s a way to say something without using words.
I don’t agree with the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words”. The shutter of a camera opens and closes in a fraction of a second. It’s a window that small. You get one facial expression, one hairstyle, one outfit, one thing, one landscape, and it’s flat. I read comments on a scrapbooking chat decrying the absence of journaling along with the photos and fancy format. There’s a limit to what an image can convey.
When I go to a funeral, I delight to see someone’s life played out in pictures, but it’s the stories from the weepy family members and friends that make me cry. My father has written his life story and my mother is plunking it out on the computer and I’m waiting with no small amount of squirming. I know what my dad looks like. His hair is gray now and he has a few more wrinkles, but I can see his face in my mind. I don’t need a picture to think on him. In the end, the time and care that went into writing his story, and I know how long it takes me to write anything, will mean more to me than a cardboard box of rumpled, fading photos. An image of someone is only that. A story breathes essence.
I’m more of a word person than a picture person and I’m sure you’ve deduced that by now. You picture people would walk by a remarkable sight and grab your camera. I walk by something notable and the sentences start coming. Don’t get me wrong, I like pictures. I especially like looking at my friend’s pictures. It brings me joy to see people loving and enjoying each other. Please continue to share your photos with me. I’m honored to stand at the window of your lives.
Ideally, a marriage between images and the written word is the best way to deliver a message. I need pictures to help break up these big, daunting blocks of words I put together. Still, I hardly take pictures, because I’m participating. Some people stand on the sidelines taking pictures of others interacting, working, playing, and having fun and never talk with anyone in the photos they’ve just taken. What do these pics end up meaning to them?
I have very few pictures of myself as a child and I don’t hold this against my parents, as I had a wonderful upbringing full of family, friends, church, games, holidays, and fun. I also worked hard to create a photo book for each of my kids up to the age of two, which if you know me is a big accomplishment, but I can’t remember the last time I looked at those albums. I live in the moment. It’s my husband who takes pictures and pushes for family photos, hanging them in special frames he buys without any input from me. As our first child prepares to move out, he’s on the family photo warpath again, wanting to obtain one last image before our home life is altered forever. Someday I may be grateful my husband thought to take pictures, but I hope I’ll be too busy living to sit around poring over old photo albums pining away for the past.
In the last couple of years, I’ve seen a number of articles come across my Facebook timeline about mothers shunning the camera, excluding themselves from photos because they’re too fat or their hair is messy or they’re not dressed fashionably. They elude the lens for decades and when they die people, their children, grieve the fact that there are few pictures of them. (Opposite: Notice the unkempt, overweight version of me. I was too busy getting ready for the party to worry about what I looked like, but look at that adorable birthday girl!)
These articles didn’t resonate with me. I’m not afraid of the camera, but as our family grew and our lives became more complex, taking pictures became less of a priority for me. My Facebook timeline bears this out. My kids might not have a slideshow’s worth of pictures of their mother. I simply don’t care if they forget what I looked like or if anyone does, for that matter. It’s my substance, my story, that which my children can only know having been with me, that I want them to hold onto. They’ll think of me without the presence of a photograph. I’m their mother. I loved them.
Some people will be remembered when their ancestors page through those cherished photo albums passed down from generation to generation. Others will be remembered for the astounding number of pictures they took and the world of intrigue and beauty they left behind. I won’t go down in history in pictures. It’s not important to me and it’s my choice. I’ll be forgotten quickly and most people are. For those who knew me and loved me, I’ll be written on their minds and hearts in talks, stories, songs, birthday poems, hugs, kisses, smiles, laughter, play, and tears; those every day, moment by moment, emotionally charged exchanges between human beings that make up a good life and can’t be fully captured by any technology this world can create.
Author’s note: I wrote this before I ventured on to Instagram! I had no idea how much joy I would experience taking pictures. I’ve always been a wanderer, so roaming while looking for something to photograph suits me well. I get a great sense of satisfaction from the finding and taking of the image to the sharing of it, I’ve made many IG friends, and I’m having a blast! Still, I get most of my photos for this blog from the kind, talented, generous folks at Pexels, Pixabay, and Unsplash.
Complete the experience. Listen to the Kink’s People Take Pictures of Each Other.
Posts come out every Monday morning, a poem every third Monday. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to receive notifications of my posts via email. Follow me on Instagram username: pollyeloquent. Thanks for reading. 🙂