Monday, January 17, 2011

Old Photographs

Why do we take photographs? Why do you take photographs? What do they mean to you? What do you do with them?

I am thinking a lot about these questions because of something I saw yesterday. After brunch we had some time to kill before heading to the airport, so we walked on 14th Street in the Logan Circle neighborhood, window shopping and walking off our food. We visited Miss Pixie's Furnishings and Whatnot, a vintage store that sells furniture and knickknacks. There on a table in the middle of the shop was a table full of old photographs, with a sign advertising them for "one dollar each!" I love photographs, so I was drawn to look at this display of old photographs from the 40s, 50s, 60s. Some probably older. All photographs of people.

Yes, it can be fun to collect old photographs from a vintage store, but this sight made me so sad. I wondered who were these people in the photographs? Where were their families? Why weren't these photographs sitting in albums or boxes in warm homes cherished by relatives and loved ones? The possible reasons all seem sad. They passed away and their families were all gone, or didn't care about or want the photographs, or didn't know they were lost or even existed. People's possessions abandoned due to illness, death, falling on bad times.

All of this got me thinking more about my own photographs. Why I take them. What I do with them. What I want to do with them. What will happen to them when I am gone. Will they be sitting on a table someday in some vintage shop with strangers pawing through them, or picking them up for a $1 a piece, or feeling sad just as I did?

I have always enjoyed taking photographs - capturing the moments, the people, the places, the events. Growing up I enjoyed looking at all of our old family photographs - of distant relatives from the 40s, 50s and 60s that I did not know; of my mom and her sister when they were teenagers; of my grandparent's when they were younger; of me and my cousins in the 70s when we were kids. I am grateful we still have these photographs. Over the years I was often the photographer, documenting for family and friends, and later in my early 30s I spent time putting a lot of those photographs in albums, although so many more have never been properly filed. I love that I have these albums and many boxes of other photos. I cherish them. I don't think I would ever give up my photographs intentionally.

How strange it is to have grown up with the first part of my life rooted in a world of film and paper photographs, stored in photo albums and special boxes and envelopes, and the second half of my life in a digital world where photographs exist on a computer and the internet. Sure they can be printed, but I don't have a printer and I never do that. I think a lot of people probably do not make hard copies of their photographs. So, perhaps this scene I witnessed today will fade away with time as we have less and less paper photographs like that. There won't be boxes of photos tossed out. Computers will crash and die and perhaps the photographs will be lost with them. Or internet sites will be forgotten or closed down and the photos that were once viewed there will be gone. With this switch to digital, and each year less and less people taking film photographs and developing them on paper, perhaps we will be seeing more and more photograpsh in vintage shops as people will be looking for these lost artifacts.

Do you remember buying film? Do you remember hanging on to film rolls for so long and then taking them to the local photo shop or the drugstore to have them developed? Do you remember the anticipation to see the photos? You had no idea what you were going to get. None of this instant gratification we have now and the ability to take endless photographs until you get the "right" one. I have had my new digital camera less than a year and I have more than 26,000 photographs on my Mac. Some of those were older ones I stored here, some are from my iPhone, some of those are ones I have from my husband, but most of those are photographs I have taken in the past year! What a difference from the time of paper photographs. Back then taking 100 photos was a big deal. Now we take 1000s.

Anyway, as I said earlier, seeing that just got me thinking about all of this.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post! Digital photography has its advantages but there is something unique about a tangible, aged photograph.