Flash bulbs to iPhoto: A brief history of family photographyWritten by Shannon Szyperski | | email@example.com
The automatic photo counter in my iPhoto program recently hit 20,000. Barring a few hundred classics scanned in for 40th birthday DVDs, that’s still almost 20,000 pictures taken and imported over the last five and a half years. And I don’t even own a camera phone.
I would like to say that it all started with my son’s birth and the advent of digital photography. One of the most important events in my life, the birth of my child, coinciding with the popularization of the easiest form of photography since its invention seems like a good reason to go picture crazy. However, my compulsion to record everything from family holidays to finger painting began long before thousands of photos could be captured inside a one-inch piece of plastic.
I come from a line of family photographers. There was some sort of photographic gene that mutated in my mother, and my dad’s mother, actually, that has generated a solid line of amateur photographers in my family. Although 20,000 photos seems like an absurdly high number even in the digital world, I have no doubt that there are close to that many photos of my own childhood stacked in boxes throughout my parents’ house.
Family photography back then took much more effort than the click of a button it does today. Making sure the batteries are charged pales in comparison to lugging around extra batteries, extra film and flash bulbs. The time it took to drop off the film, wait for it to be developed and then pick up the finished product was quite different than the luxury we have today of seeing our photos immediately on the display screen. The pressure to encapsulate a group event for all of time was also much greater when you likely had only one or two chances to capture all eyes open and a smile on each face.
Today taking a picture of all of the cousins together on Christmas entails at least three or four cameras constantly flashing with the intensity of a group of paparazzi. The irony is that 48 pictures by three or more parent and grandparent photographers don’t seem to yield any better a photo than two pictures taken with one camera used to. If anything, the chaos of it all seems to grab less smiling, attentive faces than more.
Although we may not know for sure that at least one of the kids turned their head in every single photo until we see it on our computer monitor, photography of decades past was much more of a waiting game. My family would stack rolls and rolls of film in the refrigerator (I realize now that this probably was as good of an idea as shaking Polaroid pictures) until our corner drug store had its semi-annual film developing sale. It may have been weeks or months before my mom knew if she had even managed to squeeze everyone into the frame. However, it was always worth the wait when we all sat together reliving the not-so-distant memories of the prior six months.
I sometimes wonder if I actually remember certain things from when I was little or if I have just seen the pictures so many times that I think I remember them. I wonder if my children will wonder the same thing. Maybe it doesn’t matter; I suppose it still happened either way.
I fully admit that averaging 3,500 photos per year is a little silly. Still, there is just something about the speed of life feeling like it is constantly accelerating that makes me want to freeze as many moments in time as possible. On the days that I can’t seem to take one more screaming fit from my three-year-old, having a picture of her so tiny behind the NICU glass pop up on my screensaver really puts her tantrums in perspective. It reminds me that there was a day when I couldn’t wait for her to come home and scream in our house.
It’s not always the pictures of the big days, such as a wedding or a baby being born, that mean the most. Sometimes it’s the nostalgia of seeing a favorite piece of clothing or furniture you don’t have any more. Sometimes it’s the realization that a picture you snapped of someone doing nothing at all was the last before you never had the chance to see them again. Sometimes it’s discovering that the little things — feeding the squirrels, playing Monopoly until someone threw the board across the room, the toy closet at grandma and grandpa’s house — were the big things. And so I keep snapping away.
Shannon Szyperski and her husband Michael are raising two children in Sylvania. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.