The story of Vivian Maier fascinates me. How could such an avid photographer never print her pictures? True, 150,000 photos might be a bit cost prohibitive! But apparently she rarely printed any of them. Wouldn’t you want to print maybe one or two once the negative had been developed? But her photographic idiosyncrasy is not much different from the thousands of photos we store digitally today. It started me thinking of how many pictures I’ve got stored on CD’s, flash drives, on SD cards and in my computer. The total may not reach the magnitude of Maier’s negatives, but by the time I die, it might be close!
There are several albums and boxes in my home that store family photos of several generations of my forefathers and significant people in my life. They include my great grandparents on their honeymoon at Niagara Falls, my father serving in the Ski Troops in Colorado during WWII, my grandmother playing a mandolin on a roof top with some of her friends, my uncle with my mother just before he set sail with the Navy, my parents on their wedding day and a photo which appeared in the local paper when my cousins, sisters and I had one person in each grade of the elementary school. There is something wonderful in feeling those pictures between my fingers, looking at the moments they capture, and feeling the connection I have with the people in them.
When we were raising our own family, the wonderful world of digital photography had not been invented yet. I have a collection of photos documenting our sons’ birthday parties, sports events, holidays, the family vacations we took, and even the way they played with their toys. Mixed in amongst the family history my eye for patterns, bits and bobs, rusty things and nature was also developing and there are pictures to prove that as well. But it has become less of a habit for me to print out pictures of my grandchildren. Granted I do take advantage of those on-line places where you can put your digital photos into a book. But there is something deep inside of me that wonders if future generations will have the same feelings as I do when I hold those faded but treasured photos in my hand when they look at those books in theirs.
There is something about a tangible print that makes history tangible too. It’s no longer something that happened “way back when”. It’s a part of who I am. It’s part of my story. I think the stories attached to those photos also become more real when there is some sort of physical documentation of them. You can flip through a photo album and see a picture and say, “Oh, I remember that car! We drove half way across the country in it in 1963,” or “That was my favorite doll when I was 6. I hardly let her out of my sight.” Friends are not forgotten, family legacies are continued, special places remain etched in our memory, all when we hold those snapshots in our hands.
So maybe the next time one of those photo sites offers me 100 free prints, I’ll take them up on it and start a collection of my own. And maybe someday my great great granddaughter will hold them in her hands and say, “My great great grandmother took this picture. The story goes she was never without a camera. Judging from all the pictures we have that she took, that must be true! And now I know where my love of photography comes from.”
Ann H. LeFevre, January 29, 2019
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