When I went to my hometown last weekend to visit my parents, I brought back a box full of pictures. There are several hundred photos in the box, spanning a timeframe from my great-grandparents through my own kids. Most of the pictures are of my parents, eights siblings, and me growing up in a small town before the age of digital cameras.
My goal is to convert all of the pictures to digital, then share them with family members who want copies. My plan is to convert a handful of pictures to digital each day with the objective of being done by the end of the year. Then I’ll start on another box. I prefer printed pictures to electronic versions, but am undertaking the digitization process in order to have unlimited copies so anyone who wants a picture can have it. These are gifts worth sharing.
There’s something special and mesmerizing about looking at pictures developed from film. Granted, the quality isn’t always ideal, but I’m a bit old-fashioned in the sense that I prefer to hold pictures in my hands rather than seeing them on a screen. The same goes for reading magazines and newspapers — I like to have them in my hands, turn the pages, and feel the paper instead of scrolling and getting bombarded with display ads.
The pictures bring back floods of memories of people who have passed and how my family members and I have changed over the years. I find myself dealing with a lot of emotions pouring through the pictures, from missing departed relatives to smiling at baby pictures to feeling nostalgic at my carefree teen years in the 1980s.
I remember the excitement of getting pictures developed from film and not knowing for sure what to expect until I opened the package. The old pictures I’m now preserving are often of special events, like trips or holidays. Developing pictures wasn’t terribly expensive, but there was a cost so in our family, we didn’t “waste” pictures on ordinary things like sunsets, food, or going to a store. One advantage of digital is that I can take endless pictures on my phone and there’s zero cost. As a result, I now take a lot more pictures than I would if I still took the film route.
Many of the pictures in the box I brought home have names and dates written on the back, which is helpful for people I don’t recognize or that were taken before I was born. In most of the pictures, people are smiling. They seem to be happy to have their pictures taken and in many cases are dressed up for the occasion. These people were certainly not wealthy, in fact many had extremely hard lives, but they were classy.
Probably the first song I ever heard about pictures was an old Statler Brothers song simply called “Pictures.” The lyrics are about looking through photographs and enjoying the memories they inspire. Other artists, ranging from Ringo Starr to Yes to Def Leppard, have also recorded songs about cameras and pictures. One of my favorite lines is from the Blondie song “Picture This” that says, “All I want is a photo in my wallet, a small remembrance of something more solid.”
I like the lyric because I have a couple pictures in my billfold, and they are important to me. They’re wallet-sized pictures of my kids from elementary school, and the pics are at least 10 years old. The meaning to me is undoubtedly different than what Blondie intended in the song, but the sentiment of holding onto a small memory is the same.
Like my parents and grandparents, my wife and I took a lot of pictures on film when we started our family. I’m glad we did. We now have more than a dozen photo albums that we enjoy flipping through on occasion. It’s nice to see our lives in pictures. It’s why I continue to take pictures whenever we’re together.
Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.