Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Pictures: Past & Present

These days, cameras are everywhere. Everyone is able to take photographs whenever and of whatever they like. We take it for granted that we can snap pictures with our digital camera or phone or computer, choose the ones we like and then within minutes we are able to print, publish or send out our photographs easily and cheaply. Even with traditional film you can have your prints back within an hour or polaroids within minutes. We are able to document everything we do with digital cameras and video recorders.

What happened to the time when photographs were something for special occasions? Holidays? Portraits? When a few small black and white prints were treasured because that was the only pictorial documentation of an event you could have.

My great-grandparents photo album is a perfect example of how special and treasured photographs were. This album is beautifully bound in red cloth, filled with thick archival paper and the photographs were mounted neatly with the little photo corners. The first few pages date back to Poland before World War 2 (1930's or earlier) and most are posed, a family photo or just one of the children, nothing spontaneous. Even holiday photos at the beach, as carefree as they are, has had some thought in setting up the composition and poses. These photographs gave me an insight into what life was like for my great-grandparents back then and it's quite amazing looking at these relatives and see resemblances to family today. Even more importantly, this album was transported with the family as they escaped Poland and made it to Australia to be continued with new memories.

(I do not know names of the people in the pictures yet but my grandfather remembers all of them and will help record that.)

I have always imagined those times in black and white, without colour because the images I've seen are black and white even though I know that it wasn't really like that. Despite this, seeing such a collection of family photographs has injected some colour into my thoughts of the days when my grandfather was a child because these images are so alive with memories. I've learnt so much from these pictures and hope to find out more about all these relatives.

Due to the age of the album, the adhesive corners have come off so the photographs have fallen out and are a bit jumbled. As well as the pre-war photos and more recent ones of the grandchildren (like my mother) are several formal, posed photographs of various family members, one in particular I would guess to be nearly 100 years old. The image is of a woman and three girls, one of which may be my great-grandmother, all dressed formally. There are two copies: a black and white copy in a plastic sleeve and a torn, sticky-taped sepia copy with the name of the photography studio printed on the back. The wear and tear indicates that this was probably a very meaningful photograph.

Also found in my great-grandparents album is a small Rosh Hashana (New Year) greeting card, about three inches by one inch photographically printed design, greeting in Hebrew and Polish and a small picture of the family. Personalised cards were being made even back then! (We could even make more of that one, the film negative is there too!)

The contrast of this collection of treasured photographs and memories to how we treat photographs these days is amazing. Over what is really just a few decades, the way we treat pictures has changed so much. From something that is used to document special occasions in a few black and white prints to today, where full colour videos and photographs are sent and displayed with hardly any thought.

A picture will always tell a thousand words, it's just that the older, more treasured ones are more meaningful because there are less of them.

(See how easy it was for me to take a picture of the album with the camera that's built in to my computer and then post it on blogger!)

~ Sarah