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From My Window

Issue Date: June 1, 2016

Picture This

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

I bet most of you, like me, have some treasured old black and white photographs of family members long-dead. Back when my grandparents were children themselves, photos were taken by traveling photographers with bulky equipment. They cost a lot of money and many of those children were only photographed a half-dozen times in their childhoods, or less. I know some people who only have one or two pictures of their grandparents as children. So the black and white pictures were treasured, and our ability to watch these family members grow up are limited. Since family members couldn't always travel for funerals, it was also common to have a photographer take pictures of deceased family members so those not present at the death could have one more look at the loved one. I've seen some of these grim pictures, they are both disturbing and fascinating.

Later, photographers set up storefronts, and it was a bit more common to see pictures of newlyweds, or family groups of parents and children. The portraits were formal and posed in studio settings, but still were a luxury and buying such studio sessions was uncommon.

I remember in grade school in the early 60's that a school photographer, and a helper, would make the rounds once a year to take individual student photographs. The entire class would line up in the hall, and the girls, much more concerned about such things, would discuss the wardrobe selection they had made days in advance for this special event. The assistant would pass out new combs to each student and straighten out collars. The boys in those days usually had crew cuts so they used their combs to poke each other, or they put tissue paper over them and made uncouth sounds with them. (I don't recall how this was done but the little girls found it disgusting.) It was formal, but special to kids and their families to get this annual picture, so they and their own children would be able to watch the kids "grow up" years later.

One of the things I like to do is reflect on just how much better things are today than they used to be (bucking the "isn't everything terrible" barrage of conversations we are all exposed to.) I have, in my pocket, a cell phone with hundreds of photos on it. In five seconds, I can send a picture from my house to my daughter in Dallas, knowing she will smile when she sees the family dog doing something cute. For my birthday last week, I got a charming video of three of our grand-nephews and nieces singing me "happy birthday," from Mosinee, Wisconsin. Made my day to see those darling little faces and hear their voices.

I have more pictures on my phone of the family dogs and cats than were taken of my son in his first year of life. It's not a reflection of my value for my pets; it's a reflection of how simple and inexpensive the technology is now; with the benefit of being able to instantly print photos if I wish to. Before, we'd have to tote film to a special store and wait for prints. And if a picture is really important, I can check the quality of it immediately, instead of waiting for a blurry snap from the developer with my thumb visible in the corner, marring a memory that I can't fix.

Really, at the heart of it, pictures are about love and caring. And it is so simple now, to generate beautiful memories of those we love, and share them. Yes, our electronic devices can distract us from those who should be receiving more of our attention. But at the same time, they can be a tool to strengthen our relationships, make us laugh, and share love.


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