A few years back, I started a habit of “swiping” old family photographs from the upstairs loft in my paternal grandparents’ house. My grandmother was an old pro at organizing decades of photos—even having separate envelopes for pictures of my sister, brother, and me. I’d put the photos in albums according to year and occasion, and stick the miscellaneous in small, hearty Victoria’s Secret bags (whoever engineered those bags is a genius).
When Grandma died in October 2011 I nearly emptied her dresser drawers full of memories captured on film. I still don’t know what to do with them all.
There is something about a still-shot photograph, a physical photograph that symbolizes the life cycle at its best. A photograph reveals its age. Whether it’s a black and white or a Polaroid, they can capture the essence of an era.
Digital photography is phenomenal, don’t get me wrong. I love that I can view a picture a mere instant after its taken, and decide on the spot whether or not I want to “keep” it. I love that there are Photoshop features that allow me to remove the red from my eyes or the curves from my waistline. And photo bombers beware: if need be, I will remove you.
But with all the technological advances, the images can appear timeless—and I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way. I sometimes look at pictures from 2003 that don’t necessarily look different from my 2013 pictures. I look older (and wiser) of course, but the picture itself doesn’t necessarily reveal anything to me, whereas if I look at a picture from 1991, I can see the period unravel in front of me. I’m right back in third grade. I can see an episode of Full House on my TV screen. I can hear Phil Collins on the radio. I can smell the chocolate chip cookies I’m baking with Grandma. It’s all right there in photo.
There’s something about capturing a fleeting moment on film and not being able to do anything about it once the camera clicks. No previewing or nitpicks, or surgical procedures. Just whatever image materializes, forever.
Here are five of my favorite photographs from my collection that help remind me who I am and where I came from—even long before I was born: