Friday, November 02, 2007


Digital photography has reawakened my twenty-year-old art school dreams. In the nearly five years we have owned digital cameras I have converted from horrified to enthralled. I wondered, at first, what would replace my negatives as eternally secure sources for reprints? What if my computer crashed and I lost captured moments forever? How could my husband even dare suggest that we put away our SLRs? He, a former high school yearbook photographer, and me, a former photo shop salesperson! Get rid of film? Sell our Pentax? Our Canon? What?

Slowly, always, I allow new technologies into my life; I resist, I protest, I fight, then I hesitantly trust, moderately appreciate, and finally embrace with illogical loyalty!

We have just upgraded to Leopard on our Macs, so I have my new iPhoto in place. Smooth, slick, nice. I decided, finally, to accept iPhoto, the bugs of which had previously caused me to only use it for the creation of My Publisher books or slideshows, and the editing capabilities paling in comparison to Photoshop. I organized my photos in files by year, by month, by event, very like iPhoto does now, and burned them onto disks, but kept them out of the program that falsely assigned dates to digitally misunderstood files. Tonight, though, I dragged the 2007 photo files into the program, choosing not to allow duplication of the few hundred shots I've brought in in the past eighteen months or so, and then watched and waited as more than 2,500 pictures came in from just April to the present (January to April are backed up on DVDs). 2,500 photographs in 6 months? If I had used film, how would I have been more selective about my shots? What moments might I not have considered memorable enough to spend the money on the roll of film, the development, printing, reprints and enlargements? If I had used film, which images might I have missed?

In 1991 I toured with an international singing group--we hit 26 states, and flew to Singapore, Japan and South Korea. It was a unique experience that none of my friends had gone through, and that I knew I'd never be able to recreate. I shot pictures like mad, and it became a part of my identity to be the zealous photographer on tour. Whenever we had a long enough stopover somewhere I got my prints developed. I learned to use photo mailer envelopes to save money. I was always into the idea of attempting to save my life from escaping into my own failed memory. I don't know why this is so important to me, except for the instability of my childhood--I needed to understand who I am in relation to others, keep memories of my best experiences to review in hard times, remind myself of where I've been and what I've accomplished.

Several years ago I heard a friend remark as I snapped another pic on film, "Lisa can't remember anything unless she takes a picture."

When scrapbooking became popular, I approached these images with a new framework--they are fragile, they fade away, they must be preserved for future generations! This, in tandem with my obsessive journaling habit from age nine forward and my fascination with the genealogical research of the fifteen generations of Americans from which I come, makes me a photojournalist of my life. Add blogging, and, Oh, heaven!

Logan views the family cemetery, summer 2007

So, I have been contemplating, recently, how my children are going to consider themselves as they develop. If you shoot twelve images in just as many seconds of your child's life, you are bound to find a "winner" in the pack, right?

What image will my children have of themselves as adults, when their lives have been meticulously recorded by their overly-sentimental, homeshooling, impassioned, obsessed mother!? Will it help them believe they are loved? Or, will it make them feel adored--or even worshiped? How does it affect someone to be documented throughout life?

I have a baby book, assembled by my mother with a memory inscribed here and there, a few extra albums of square pictures, no recording of my childhood voice that I could put my hands on, and very few video images of myself in the preteen stages of my life. I have grown to know my own spirit, emotion and character as the definition of myself without an abundance of media input. For my children, however, their mere four and two years of life have been virtually recorded in full. At any moment they can pull down the home movie video binder and look back at images of stories we've told them about themselves. Their births, hospital visits, travels, long-distant friendships--all of it is available to prick the memory lobes in their brains.

I am grateful for this as it saves my grandfather and grandmother from extinction in our children's memories. For me there is just one photo of my great grandfather holding me gently in my infancy. Without that I would only have the story of his having met me before he died. For them, however, I can pull up video of each child sharing Grandpa's piano bench as he taught them Middle C and played the songs of his era. We can watch his lengthy fingers stretch out for chord progressions. They will have tangible memories live out before them full of color; full of the sounds you & I can recall only when we hear a similar sound in our contemporary world that sparks a memory ("That reminds me of...from when I was eight.."). The creak of a door, the whistle or voice of a friend, our own little-people voices. All of this remains for their generation--there is no need to search their brains for memories of important occasions, will this affect their ability to store memories in their minds? Will it short-circuit critical bands of intelligence? Memorization? Story-telling? Contemplation? Creative processes?

Logan & Grandpa, September 2003

Logan & Grandpa, December 2005

How is one affected who has his entire life spread out in daily photographs? How do stars and starlets see themselves when their images are splashed on international magazine covers every day? When their faces are larger-than-life on movie posters? When they know that any household in America can tune in one night a week to watch their talents unfold for public consumption?

Once, there were mirrors, but not everyone owned one. To see oneself wasn't an assumption--some people never knew precisely what they looked like to others unless they hired a portrait artist to paint them a subjective or realistic rendition of their physical image--and that was no cheap prospect! If you were Ruler, your image was reproduced on the heads of coins! Then there were delicate glass slides--a person might perhaps by photographed once or twice in a lifetime. Daguerreotypes, tintypes...families sat still during portrait sessions with hired professionals behind a pinhole box as a large single frame of film grabbed a piece of history; and finally commercially available personal cameras and easily-purchased film, or instant Polaroids. The annual tradition of pulling out the slide reels & popping up the stingy white screen, plugging in the projector and handing the corded remote to someone's dad has faded, with the color in the photographs innocently stored in "magnetic" spiral-bound albums. How have American's images of themselves evolved through these transitions? To only ever see one photograph of oneself, in military uniform, versus a daily meal of imagery played right in the hand time and again...?

We have certainly become image-driven. One culturally defining American idea is, "Image is Everything." Another is, "It is better to look good than to feel good." With literally tens or even hundreds of thousands of photographs of themselves, how will our children's generation view themselves? Will arrogance and self-importance be their biggest struggle? Will they see the art in paintings?

I have held black and white, high-quality photographs of my grandparents' courting days at Hillsdale College, and have stared intently into the few images that exist--pouring over every detail, looking for defining objects from the time period, imagining them dancing, laughing, sharing time with friends. I have touched one after another of my grandfather's war photographs--some even of Buchenwald, taken by Margaret Bourke White, and sold to the soldiers who freed the death camp--heros like my grandfather. Each photograph is a treasure--a rare glimpse into the lives of 20-somethings I knew only in their arthritic older age! There is a real depth to something so valuable and rare--it's collectible, it's precious, it becomes a family heirloom! Used to be, you handed down your Brownie camera, and you sang about Kodachrome...

So, I do not know, yet, how today's abundance of photographic images are shaping the self-images of our children--but I am thinking about this often. What do you think? Have you seen any articles on this topic? I'd love to read them; pass links onto me, please!

from "Kodachrome" by Paul Simon

They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world's a sunny day, Oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

Who I am in Christ has nothing to do with my physical appearance.

Let me keep my mind stayed on this!

1 comment:

Mrs. "M" said...

I fought the digital road too. We purchased our first digital camera last December. Almost a year later, I have not printed one picture! I just had my husband back up the computer last week for fear of loosing our pictures. I do enjoy taking tons of photos and then deleting the ones that don't work...feels great knowing all the bad ones disappear with the push of a button.I think I am addicted!