I have just a single photograph of my paternal grandparents, who died before I was born. The decaying 19th century photograph depicts them in all their Russian new immigrant finery, staring solemnly into the camera. I must’ve pored over every millimeter of that photo hundreds of times, wondering who these people were and trying to forge some connection with an ancestral past I’d never known.
Meanwhile, I was busy creating my own photographic memories, turning my Kodak Instamatic X15 on our cooperative family pets and burning my allowance on developing and printing of photos likely to be damaged by my next lemonade spill.
This was all well before the scrapbooking craze of the ’90s opened up the world of photo preservation with acid-free paper and “archival” storage solutions. And it was certainly before life went totally digital. My generation is of the age where childhood photos deteriorated along with yellowing newspapers and moth-eaten vintage clothing.
Nowadays we are obsessed with archiving, piling digital photos we’ll probably never see onto increasingly large hard drives which we put on a never-ending schedule of backup and replacement. Lost or damaged photos are a thing of the past. But I’ve begun to challenge the idea of longevity and the things I leave behind. Maybe my grandkids can benefit from spending more time with less visual information.
When we have less to work with, we’re forced to fill in the blanks ourselves, much like the way our generation’s kids filled boring road trips with creative car games or parlayed rocks and pavement into a hopscotch tournament. Sure, a 1000 photo slideshow has its place, but I think what’s lost is a deeper engagement with these glimpses into our past.
Perhaps a little editing by the forces of time and nature isn’t such a bad thing.
Quick, think of three things that “last forever.” Mine were plastic, plutonium, and herpes.
Tags: digital archiving, family, photography, Russian immigrants, scrapbooking