Growing up, photos were taken only of special occasions: birthdays, christenings, Christmas. Mum would take out her old film camera, open the shutter, check to see the film had been wound on. She would peer through the tiny viewfinder, and with a call of ‘cheers’, we would stop what we were doing and smile at the camera. The flash would dazzle us, and we would return to what we were doing.
Only a few precious albums exist from my childhood: people simply didn’t ‘waste’ photos. As such, I now pour over each image intently, studying all the details in the background. The scratchy brown couch and burnt orange curtains (height of 70s fashion), the length of my Dad’s moustache, the length of our denim shorts in the 80s, the posters of boy bands my sister had on her wall (Bros, NKOTB), Dad painting the kitchen in paint-splattered coveralls, Mum – her face covered with cold cream –mending Dad’s shirt. I find these ordinary memories really precious, and from them, more memories spring.
When I got my own camera as a teenager, we had the choice of rolls of 12 or 24 films. That meant we could take only 24 images on a single roll, each of which needed to be wound on by hand to ensure we didn’t end up with double exposure. When the roll was finished, you would wind the film back into the canister, and then take it to the nearest Kodak shop to be developed.
The wait for your prints could be a week, and it could be excruciating. Would the photos work or would you have paid $22 for twenty black or blurry pieces of shiny paper. That moment when you went to collect your photos, handing over your money, tearing the edge of the packet to release the envelope of pictures, sometimes even before you left the shop. That moment of elation when you realised a photo worked, or the disappointment when you realised that the blurry mess was now just a lost opportunity.
Like everyone else, I now own a digital camera which I adore. I can easily take dozens of photos in an afternoon, hundreds during a short vacation with the kids, and literally thousands in the first few months of having a new baby. Almost all of them are pretty near perfect since I can see them as soon as I take them, and edit as I go.
And probably only 1% of them ever make it into a photo album.
Last week I realised I had not printed any photos since April of 2013. I had taken about a million photos in those nine months, and it literally took me two or three nights of trawling through my hard drive deciding which to print, and then another two or three nights uploading them to be printed.
Halfway through selecting photos I realised I was choosing all the photos where the kids were being cute, or funny or wearing a strange outfit, or not wearing anything at all. They were photos that captured the kids, but they were not showing anything about our life, our house or anything that in ten or twenty years you could look back on and say ‘that’s what we did, that was my childhood’.
Sure, they might know that the Mop looked like a cherub with big eyes and curls, but they wouldn’t know who went to her 4th birthday party. You’d be able to say that Baldy tended to smear food over herself when she ate, but she wouldn’t be able to see what her room looked like when she was two.
So I made a decision to print the mundane pictures as well, the ones that showed our everyday life. The ones that might be poorly framed, or a bit blurry, or – dare I say it – a bit boring.
The picture of the three girls crowding around my husband on a Saturday morning as he cooks them pancakes.
The picture of the Bombshell intently building Lego with her dad at the kitchen table.
The picture of the three girls ‘doing a show’ in the backyard.
The picture of what we had for Christmas lunch.
The picture of all the Christmas presents under the tree, before the kids woke up.
Pictures of the girls’ rooms.
These are the photos that in a decade’s time will be of most interest to my daughters (ok, nothing will be of interest to them when they’re teenagers, but maybe later on) as they will remind them of the constant, small things which make up our childhood.
We need to remember to capture and keep the ongoing, behind-the-scenes moments, which might not be as immediately memorable at the big events, but which make us who we are.