As a Syracuse NY Newborn Portrait Photographer, I am well aware of the saying, “Take a picture, it will last longer.” As kids this was a snide remark, we would make to someone we caught staring at us. It was a cruel thing to say now that I think about it as an adult, but there is so much truth to those snarky words.
Photography has been part of our culture for nearly 200 years. This blows me away. Ever since the daguerreotypes, people have been desiring to have their portrait, or the portrait of their child/children captured. Why? Probably because it would outlive them. Back in the early years of photography, it was expensive, time consuming, and a process to not only capture the image but to have it developed and printed as well. We didn’t start with 35mm film, kodak cameras, and color prints. Cameras were not pocket size, nor even handheld, but had to be lugged over a shoulder on awkward tripods. Traveling photographers would create a darkroom wagon (pulled by mules etc.) for all their chemicals and glass plates they developed their images on. And with the technology age of cellphone capabilities, we can now slip our high-definition camera in our back pocket and take it wherever we venture, every day, all day long. So, take that picture, it will last longer.
Unfortunately, having the ability to capture every moment has left many of us numb to the art that our forefathers and mothers busted their bottoms to perfect and pass down to us. Even with a 35mm camera, grandma knew you didn’t just press click, click, click, but measured the light, adjusted her frame, and made sure she got everyone smiling before she pressed that shutter button.
Why? Because she knew that portrait would outlive her. She knew she’d cherish that moment when she opened her Clark package of developed images that just came in the mail. And as she carefully, and slowly looks through each 24-36 prints, praying they all turned out, she selected that one to be framed and to see it every day. Maybe she ordered doubles, so she’d have 1 to share with her children and a copy for herself. After examining her precious memories a few times, sharing them with her honey, she’d meticulously place each one in a precious sleeve or under plastic to keep it for future generations. She’d write out a note beside each image, with a date to help her never forget that moment. Grandma knew the value of a photograph. She took the picture, so it would last longer.
Today, our photographs are stored on memory cards, cloud services, and social networks. All which could crash or disappear in an instant and be lost for all time. I don’t know how many people have come to me in despair and searching for a glimmer of hope because they just lost ALL their pictures. It’s devasting. I’ve lost pictures due to technology failure. It’s heartbreaking. What can we do?
Print that picture. It will last longer. Back up your files, if not monthly, then bi-yearly, if not yearly. Facebook won’t be here forever. Memory cards and USB’s will be outdated. But that print in a frame or album will live on. It’s a precious memory that tells more then a thousand words. And to hear grandma retell that story, as if it were yesterday, though it has been so countless years, many of them in the photograph have passed on. It is time spent with an elder looking back at the past, learning your history, and working it into your future, to share the wisdom passed down to you. Love that picture, it will last longer than the ones you love in it.
And when you move on, I’m sorry to say it, but it will one day happen, will your child know the value of the photograph? Will you be in any of those portraits? Will they preserve your memory and retell your story? When a loved one passes, the first thing we do is search for pictures of them! We want to see them in their natural habitats. The father who loved to fish with a rod in his hand and hooks dangling off the brim of his hat. The mom who loved her garden, maybe digging around in her flower bed or sniffing some fresh cut lilies she’s about to make into a centerpiece for her dining room table. The boy who loved baseball sliding into home after stealing third base. Are they printed? Is their story being told? Or will they only resurface in a year when your memories show up on social media only to fade away for another 365 days?
We need to slow down, check the light, adjust our frame, and wait for the perfect smile. Maybe it’s crooked. Maybe it’s scrunched. But when it comes, it brings a twinkle to the eye and makes your heart melt. And as a parent, or family member, do your loved ones a favor and be in the picture frame. Then take that picture, it will last forever.