Monday, April 7, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Photograph

I don't have much in common with the cousins on my father's side. Distance and culture are powerful forces, and it's hard to stay in touch with people you didn't grow up with and only see for a couple weeks every few years, if that.

However, we do have one commonality that seems to have skipped directly from my grandfather to each of us grandchildren: a love of photography.

My grandfather was quite the photographer in his day; an accountant by trade, he took pictures in his spare time. They're good pictures, too, and I believe some won prizes in their day. Last I saw, they were tucked below his desk, faded and dust covered--the one with the view of the boats on the river in the early morning light, the one with the impressive lion statue at one end of the bridge.

"What's missing from this?" he asked a few visits ago, before the Alzheimer's took away his faculties.

I stared and stared at the picture, couldn't figure it out.

He pointed to the lion's face. It had no whiskers.

We like taking pictures of different things, the cousins and I. One is virtually the family historian. While my grandmother has the boxes of old photographs of her children, grandchildren, and cousins of cousins of cousins' acquaintances, my cousin has folders and folders of family portraits on his laptop.

Whenever we all go out, he's there with the camera. Out to see a tourist site? Group photo. On the beach? Group photo. Nice restaurant? Group photo. It's tricky to get us all in the shot, but he's patient and persistent, always on the prowl for pieces of family heritage. When my younger sister leans in close to my father, his arm around her shoulder, my cousin shoots. When my grandfather is having a lucid evening and he and my grandmother walk in front of us, idly holding hands, he shoots.

I take some pictures of family. Some. Like the shot I took of my other cousin lounging in a not-so-flattering position. Or the time I was trying to take a picture of the ocean panorama and my uncle thought I was trying to get a shot of him and his family; he'd beckoned everybody over before I could find a polite way to say, "but I wasn't trying to take your picture." I have a picture of my great-aunt and my maternal grandmother, their arms around each other for the last time (my great aunt died last summer). I have one of my younger cousins when they decided to stuff teddy bears in their pajama pants so it looked like they had clown pants on (don't ask; it was a slumber party gag).

Even the youngest cousin has the photography bug. Nearly ten years separate him from the next youngest cousin, so he's a bit spoiled and managed to get hold of the camera from his sisters. He shoves the camera in one's face and shoots, the flash making her recoil and let out a strangled "yaargh" sound. Her brother waits for the image to appear on the screen, then laughs delightedly; it's one of those photos you hope your family doesn't pull out for blackmail material. When it vanishes, he asks her to help him find the picture--"the one where you said 'yaargh,'" he explains, replicating her expression.

I wonder what will happen to all the photos. Will the next generation peer at them in confusion, wanting to know who each relative is and what convoluted twist of the family tree connects them? In what medium will they view the shots? Will it be just like pawing through grandma's box of photos or somehow different? Will the shots that survive be more spontaneous, thanks to the liberating aspect of digitized photography, or will the posed group photos prevail?

Now playing: Mindless Self Indulgence - You'll Rebel to Anything (As Long As It's Not Challenging)
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Anonymous said...

A very well-written post. Enjoyed it very much. You are fortunate to have a family of can't have too many. Trust me...future generations will thank you for them. And it helps if names, dates, etc. are on the back!


I love the descriptions of the pictures, especially the teddy bears down the pants. Nicely described.

Granny Smith said...

I would like to second the advice about recording dates and names on family photos. A computer lets one store them so easily - either because one has a digital camera or a scanner to record film-made snapshots. But don't forget to back up your computer files!

The youngest dedicated photographer in our family is my 7-year-old great grandson, who already has a more sophisticated camera than mine. He "inherited" it from his professional photo-journalist and wedding photographer mother.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of your shutter-bug relatives.