Maybe it was different with you, but when I look back through the stacks of old albums up there on that high shelf in the bedroom closet for pictures of myself when I was young and pretty, here’s what I find:
1. Family photos, in the standard triangle formation. The three kids (baby sister missed out on most of these because she was, let’s say, late for the party) low in the middle, with our parents, centered above us. There’s me, the oldest, in my bowtie and white jacket; my head resembling a peach after the previous shearing by my dad with his fancy electric clippers. My mom always insisted we look “our best” when we had pictures made. I’d argue with her that the pictures should represent what we really looked like, but she didn’t buy that.
2. Photos of just the three kids – exactly like the family photo, but with mom & dad missing.
3. Single photo of me & my bowtie – exactly like the kids photo, but with everybody but me missing. Nice bowtie, Mr. Peach.
4. School pictures. ‘Nuff said.
5. Pictures of my sibs and me, standing in grandma’s front yard. No bowtie, but the tweed jacket and little cap are nice.
6. Pictures whenever somebody got a new car or motorcycle, or a new guitar. Not often.
7. Special occasions: Holidays, weddings, family gatherings, prom, performing at the Water Carnival and riding in the parade.
8. The occasional “candid,” taken mostly within a day or two of somebody buying a new camera.
9. All of them, fading into oblivion.
I don’t think it’s because we were any less vain than the youngsters of today; but money was scarce, and back then, taking pictures cost money. Even if you had a really cool camera, like a Brownie, you had to buy the film. Then once you got those great shots, you had to wind the thing back up into the little canister, fill out the form on the mailing envelope, pay your money for processing, and send it in to Fox Photo. Then, you waited for them to mail it back. Then you threw away the pictures that were no good, which you had to pay for anyway. You pays your money – you takes your chances. Who could afford that?
Then came my foray into the business of professional photography, when I found out that it was even more expensive to develop, enlarge and print my own pictures, especially if I was going to do that “in color.” But that decision was followed in a couple of years by the invention of the 1-hour photo lab, and that kept me going. Suddenly, I was taking pictures of everything. Flowers, ducks, cooling towers, dead snakes…and then my own lit’lin doing all sorts of things that he’d never want anybody to see when he grew up. Even then, it was hard to get a picture of myself, had I wanted one, from behind the camera. So, not too many shots of the young & pretty Rick.
Turn the page to 2011, after the appearance of the digital camera, the cell phone and Facebook. I have young “friends” on Facebook who have posted, for all the world to see, over a thousand pictures of themselves. And they were all taken in the last two years. Granted, they’re young, they’re pretty, and they’re having fun – but, truthfully, once you’ve seen, say, 500 photographs of somebody, doing basically nothing special, the rest start looking the same. I mean, “Here’s me in my red bikini, drinking a beer on Friday,” and “Here’s me in my blue bikini, drinking a beer on Saturday” are not all that distinguishable from each other, particularly when they’re both displaying the same brand of beer. Granted though, they’re all beautiful. And these are just the pictures of the guys. The girls? They’re endless.
Every kid over the age of 10, and many younger, have cell phones with built-in cameras, and a way to instantly throw those out into cyberspace for world-wide perusal. Once you’ve got the equipment, it costs literally nothing to do this. And, as such, the old dinosaur photographer is fading away as fast as the paper and silver halide images in that box in the closet. Who needs to pay somebody else to take their picture when they can just flip through their own camera roll on their phone and find a shot of themselves in every conceivable situation? Here’s one. Use this.
Sure, we old people could to this too, if we wanted. But who wants to see those images?
It’s an age-old story. Every generation worries that those who come later won’t amount to anything. We old fogies may fear that these kids, about to enter the world of adulthood and responsibility, are so spoiled and self-absorbed that they’ll never do anything meaningful with their lives. But that’s their business, isn’t it? Whether or not they take the technology that is available to them and discover new energy sources or how to make seawater drinkable or find a cure for cancer…at least those who follow them into this world will know what they looked like. Every waking moment.