I get lost in photographs. The phrase “a picture’s worth a thousand words” is an understatement. If you were born in the 60’s or 70’s like I was, you’re probably happy with the handful of snapshots you have of yourself or your family. When I look over family photos from my early years I notice a pattern~ many are taken at the dinner table where someone is celebrating a birthday or it is a family holiday feast. Then there are the random “playing outside” photos that my mom would shoot of us. There’s more of those. Why? Because my mom had a simple little Instamatic camera with a cube flash. Now, if you don’t know what that is, then you’re super young. A cube flash had 4 sides: 4 flashes. A pack of flash bulbs contained 3 so you only had 12 opportunities to take a flash picture inside 12 times on a film with 24 frames. Thus, a lot of pictures were taken outside where no flash was needed and only very special pics were taken inside. I think my mom used that camera until the late 80’s~ it definitely served our family well. And then add to that the cost of film, flash bulbs and developing; well, you can see that taking pictures was not a cheap and easy passtime like it is today.
I remember my first camera~ a Polaroid. Wow, now that was amazing. 10 photos, printed instantly in my hands moments after taking the pictures! Did I mention that the film was over $15?? Ya, no so great either. Then there was my little 110~ a narrow little camera that every teenager had in the 80’s. Oh boy, how far we’ve come.
But back to the fact that we had so very few photos. When I look at them, I’m stepping back into a world that was simpler, and for some reason my brain quiets. Why is that? A picture of me with my baby doll~ it was the only one I ever had. A picture of me and my sisters all dressed up~ we kept those dresses forever. A photo of our family dog, my dad’s horse, my grandma’s house. We came from a time where you were content with less, stayed in the same house a lot longer, held on to the same furniture and literally wore your clothes out. I have vivid memories where there are no photos to back them up. Those are the sweetest moments forever secured in my mind and my heart.
Then there’s the pile of photos my mother inherited from my grandma. They’ve been in suitcases and boxes for years and most of them are of people we don’t think we know. Or do we? In the last 6 years I have done a lot of family research. The wonderful thing about the internet is the availablity of online vital statistics. It’s like a puzzle, but you can’t stop till all the pieces are in place. All of the sudden a photo with my grandma’s handwriting on the back yields a critical piece of information. The nameless faces that we couldn’t place are now part of my family and the pile of pictures that once lay untouched and unimportant now hold incredible significance and priority. As I look at a photo of my great, great grandma in the early 1920’s~ an old lady, barely able to stand up, I see a story unfold. These too are precious memories. But they are a very small part of the whole story of our family. The unphotographed moments~ like migrating from Russia or Ireland, losing 4 children in 2 weeks to the flu, homesteading on the barren prairie in Saskatchewan, building a barn, going to school in a one room schoolhouse~ these are the moments that no camera captured but resonate through the years to continue to tell as story.
And so, here we are, in 2010. We have digital cameras with reusable memory , rechargeable batteries and unlimited storage. I take photos of rooms and messes, cats, dogs, roads and fences. But I wonder sometimes if I’m missing out. How many times have you been somewhere and said, “Oh I wish I had my camera!”? We’ve all said it TOO MANY times. We have become so focussed on recording every moment that we have forgotten to live in the moment. We blog, we post, we e-mail. My family on the other side of the country knows what I’m doing at any given moment. In the midst of all this luxury we’re missing moments. Did you watch a flock of geese fly over today? Did you really watch? Did you see them take turns with who would lead? Did you consider how many miles they fly without stopping? Did you watch? Did you JUST watch? Did your baby smile at you today and did you smile back? Did your daughter look beautiful as she left the house this morning? Did you reach for your camera or did you just take in the moment?
10 years from now, the photos will remind you of the moments. But 20 years from now the “pictures” in your mind will still be vivid and remind you of THE moment. Stop, look and take in the moment without pictures once in a while.