How many boxes of family photos do you have? Are they stored in closets, under beds, in the garage?
Mine are all over the place. About 20 percent are nicely stored in photo albums, the old-fashioned ones with plastic sleeves. However, another 50 percent are in plastic baggies grouped together for a specific event like someone’s birthday, or in the original envelopes from the drug store. Then the remaining 30 percent are in the Cloud, most of which have never been printed on paper.
Such randomness didn’t concern me until recently when I wanted to verify information about my life by double-checking photos. That’s when I realized I now have a new hobby to do in my retirement—cataloguing and archiving the entire Crosby photo album.
The most preserved photos in terms of dates and information are actually the ones I took myself with a Kodak Instamatic S-20 camera which my parents got me for my 10th birthday. For the next decade, 1968-1977, I shot 52 rolls of film.
Serving as the de facto documentarian for the family, I memorialized the houses we lived in, our dogs, birthday parties, trips to Disneyland, Christmas mornings, and milestones such as graduations, anniversaries, and even the family’s first color TV. Imagine people today posing near their newest TV.
As soon as the photos were developed at the local drug store, I would fastidiously write complete sentence captions on the back including the date.
I then would select only the best photos to put in a photo album; blurry photos were out for it made me look incompetent as a photographer. Little did I know that over a half-century later, I would be cherishing those blurry images for they captured loved ones no longer around; thank goodness I never discarded any of them. And the few that have been misplaced I have been able to re-print since I kept all the negatives.
As I peruse old photos covering decades of time, I realize that I am putting together my family’s history and, in turn, a history of photography.
The earliest photos I have are in black and white as are most of my elementary school photos. Not until fifth grade in 1968 was the switch made to color. What’s odd is that the quality of the older black and white photos are superior than the newer color ones which have faded badly.
Another aspect of school photos which has changed is individual photos. From kindergarten through fourth grade, my schools took one whole class photo outside in the spring time; the next year they switched to individual photos.
The photography studios would print a large composite of each class assembling the individual photos. However, a special dynamic was lost. In the whole class photos, relationships among kids can be observed, friends standing next to friends, as well as personalities shown (a few gigglers). Also, the whole class photos allowed one to see the full body of the students. Girls would wear nice dresses, boys would wear nice shirts, and sometimes if a child was in scouts, they would wear their uniforms. All of that is lost with the individual photo.
One other major change in photography from the pre-digital to the digital age: more useless photos are taken. With digital, people never take just one photo of a pose—more like 3 or 5—but who needs multiple photos of the same pose?
When you had a roll of film with 24 exposures and you went on a trip to Disneyland, you knew you had to be selective in what photos you shot. You wouldn’t want to take 10 photos on Main Street, leaving 14 for the other lands in the park. In other words, you had to be smarter.
Those of us living today are quite fortunate to have photographic technology during our whole lifetime, something almost all humans who ever lived before us never experienced.