“Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.” ~ Rosa Parks.
When you are the youngest of five children, you tend to feel left out of family reminiscing. One of my plaintive cries on such occasions was: ‘Was I born?’ Of course, you don’t appear in many of the family photographs (black and white, a bit grainy). I do recall one memorable shot of me at the ‘seaside’, eyes so light in the black and white photo there is an eerie, possessed look to the poor baby! The biggest injustice of my young life (which shows how privileged my childhood was), was that I alone of all the children, had no professional, studio shots. In my mother’s collection were four sets of the official photos: a sheet of small, postage stamp sized head shots, and assorted larger sizes for doting aunts, uncles and grandparents. Fortunately, in my eldest sister’s childhood shots she looked very similar to me, so I would often pretend they were mine.
It was, in fact, a sign of privilege to have assorted childhood photos anyway. If professional, it showed you could afford them – and I don’t know if it was money or time that my mother didn’t have enough of by the time she got to child number five – if amateur it meant you had a camera. When I went to Jamaica, I had many peers who had few to no photos of their own childhood to share. UK schools offered annual pictures; they were usually group shots, but in Jamaica it wasn’t until high school that they took photos for the school magazine.
We have come so far in the world of photography. My mother bought herself a good camera when we moved to Jamaica. She had the artist’s eye for composition and knew that she needed to record this major change in geographical and cultural location. She had the photos developed as slides. Which meant that to view the latest set when developed required a slide projector and an evening slide show. Moths would dance in the light of the projector, as the machine whirred and clicked with the tropical night sounds in the background. Those were the days when a sudden move that blurred the photo out of focus would not be seen until the slide show. You paid for those mistakes.
By the time my kids were little I had given up trying to have a decent camera. It was far more convenient to buy those disposable cameras and have photos developed. Sometimes there was a significant lag in time before we would see the photos, and be surprised, having no memory of what was on that film! Fortunately, when family visited, they often had more expensive cameras and I was left with a set of family shots in large, glossy glory. It is easy to forget those more complicated times of having to buy film; having to reload while missing a perfect shot; worrying that a child would open the back of the camera and thus expose and spoil a half-completed roll. And then of course the wait to see how the photos turned out. So much we have forgotten.
The act that triggered this remembering this week, of the inconvenience of amateur photography a few decades ago, was a gift from one of my sisters. She had found an old photo of me (black and white, age seventeen), and had it reprinted and framed. Oh boy if that picture could talk. And talk it did. I remembered the day, the occasion (a rare Sunday trip, permission granted to miss church only because my best friend’s father had asked my father) and the company. The photo was developed by my friend’s brother in the school’s legendary dark room. I remembered the photo mostly because, in the usual self-critical, low self-esteem way of teenagers everywhere, there were very few photos of myself that I liked. This was one of them. The other was black and white also, taken and developed by my brother-in-law.
As I pondered on the photograph, I wondered whether children of the smart phone generation, who have grown up with every moment (posed and unposed) captured, documented and published, will have that same moment of clear remembering when presented with a long-ago photo. I was privileged enough to have some photos of my childhood. It was only the children of the wealthy or connected that had ‘films’ of childhood events; grainy, handheld glimpses of laughing children. But our children and grandchildren will be able to watch hours of videos (if they are not lost in a cloud somewhere), endless sets of photos on social media (if those platforms don’t implode at some point in time). They won’t have to wonder what they were like as children, their parents will have evidence and proof!
As for me, I helped take over three hundred photographs (with a proper camera as well as my phone) of wild mother nature, last weekend. On a slow, eleven-mile drive on a narrow, marled road, we stopped and stared at anhingas; mating herons; egrets; black ibis; turtles; fish and yes, alligators galore. And we have the photos to prove it. And thanks to technology we can watch a 21st century ‘slide show’ on our computer, minus the dancing moths, the tropical night sounds and the possibility of a power cut in the middle.
The wonderful thing about photos, even imperfect shots, is that they trigger the fuller memory of the event or the person, place and time. And although even the smartest of phones is no replacement for the human eye, it provides a memento. In our pandemic world, we have relied on photos from past get-togethers to remind us of the joy of gatherings. We have scrolled through travel pics to remind us of trips we have taken in the past. Thanks to the ever-present camera on our phone we have plenty to choose from! And with each viewing we can trigger those pleasurable moments, sometimes tinged with the sweet bitterness of loss.
This Friday morning I hope you have nuff moments to capture. And I hope that your kids and grandkids will one day have the pleasure of seeing a photo and remembering a special day, a special moment. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!