At a recent holiday gathering, my eleven year old temporarily owned an array of miscellaneous items during a white elephant exchange. Before it was swiped away by a family member, she examined her spoils and found an unused disposable camera. In an effort to identify the strange item, she read the packaging and still appeared completely perplexed.
Several children of the 70s and 80s tried to explain to my little millennial that there was a time when people used cameras with film in them, and we reminisced as a group as we explained to her the process of taking film to be developed and then excitedly examining photos on the bench outside the store or in the car while still sitting in the parking lot. We laughed about the anguish of an overexposed roll of film or the torture of finding just a few good shots amidst blurry, unidentifiable objects.
Photography was costly then, and I remember learning very quickly as a camera trigger-happy teenager how costly it was to buy AND process film only for a package full of disappointment. My incredulous daughter quickly lost interest in our commiserating, and as is often the case at a white elephant exchange, other atrocities quickly followed.
Photographs are funny things. Even as we have all (mostly) transitioned to digital photography as the norm, there are still very few things that allow us to lose ourselves in hours of reminiscing like looking through old photos.
Ironically, it seems that every human expends the vast majority of their time behind the lens capturing epic sunsets, glimmering coastlines, delicious meals and stunning landscapes in an effort to make time stand still. And yet, it turns out that we have one thing in common when looking through old photos: we are scouring for faces of ourselves and our loved ones. Despite this nearly-universal truth, we still focus our photographs on the things we saw and did more than the people we were with in life’s key (and ordinary) moments.
Perhaps this is why some years ago I began keeping many of the blurry photos. I remember when my attitude on this subject shifted permanently: it was more than a decade ago as I was adjusting to being a new mom. Miraculously, I had carved out enormous chunks of time to gather and begin organizing the cacophony of photos I’d accumulated over the first two and half decades of my life. Somehow, I managed to round third base and come skidding into home – or the end of the first year of our first child’s life – with every single one of our photos from the 70s through 2003 neatly organized and enshrined in albums. It was a small miracle.
In the process, I ran across (yet another) batch of blurry photos, including several of my grandfather. I lost all three of the grandparents I’d grown up spending time with in rapid succession during the handful of years leading up to Sophie’s birth, and their leaving the world so close to her arrival was still raw. The photos – with my grandfather in them holding court in that old house in Mena where I’d spent so many summers and holidays – were not of anything close to decent quality – but there he was.
I realized then that so many of the blurry photos capture fleeting moments, ordinary details of the places we miss and the dear faces we long to see again.
These days, all our smartphones and tablets and fancy cameras afford us the opportunity to take photos constantly, and I’m frequently guilty of getting so caught up capturing it all through the lens that I have to still my shutter finger to soak it all in.
This array of devices also mean that the number of photos we are able to capture has grown exponentially. To my husband’s dismay, I still cling to many of the blurry photos that seem pointless – but it’s often because I spy something in them I love. From our child’s faceless silhouette in the window to the fleeting childhood toys and detritus of every day, I still love the photos that aren’t worth keeping.
And yes – over the last decade, I’ve accumulated thousands more photos which are by no means neatly organized. I take comfort in the fact that they were catalogued through 2003, and I’ve recently been going backwards to organize them to present day. As of the closing of the year 2014, I’m pleased that I’ve gotten 2011 to current in good shape.
It’s just those fuzzy, chaotic, child-rearing, life-changing years from 2004 to 2010 that remain – as it so happens – a blur. I’m methodically making my way through them, though – and I know I’m going to spot some very special memories, even in the blurry ones.