My flash photography teacher explains a “snapshot” as a photo that has meaning to you, but in the given context, would not have much meaning for other viewers. Well, whatever you want to call it, I found myself musing about what the modern digital snapshot is.
In my mother’s closet is a large shoe box. Maybe now there’s two, I haven’t been in their snooping for Christmas presents in a while. Inside are neatly stacked lines of photos, held together in her OC- organized grip, but quivering to rebel into a Dionysus mosh pit. They are photos of me in my Halloween costume. My brother with one of his many Tae Kwon Doe trophies. My step father’s 38th birthday cake. Me posing with my attempt at baking the “World’s Largest Cookie”. There are photos of cats doing “cute stuff”, the new car we’d just bought, that day the garden looked great, shots from dinners out, us posed together with the relatives when they came to visit from up north, even shots of my friends and I being 14, sticking our tounges out where half our faces are blurry or cut off.
Occasionally I flip through those photos, pausing at many of them.
“Oh, I remember that lamp. My brother broke it.”
“Wow, I can’t believe I used to dress like that!”
“Awh, lookit how tiny Lucky used to be!”
And that’s all it takes to start a long conversation. You run a finger across Lucky’s fur like you can almost feel it’s softness through the emulsion. For some reason, you put the paper to your nose and sniff it. It smells like history. It was once part of that time. Even if you can’t- and shouldn’t- hold on to that moment, you feel like you almost can, holding it there in your hand, grasping it like you are grasping time itself.
We took our rolls to Walgreen’s or Albertson’s or Eckerd’s and unless we refused the prints, we were stuck with what we had shot on a roll of 24 or 36 exposures. We could throw the prints away or mail them off in letters but the photos were born, tangible examples of the sort of permanence that knows no on-camera delete button. Those photos that didn’t come out the way I wanted, that I sneered at because the cute guy I was trying to shoot came out blurry, or because I looked fat, or because the photo just didn’t capture the scene the way I had seen it in real life, came to have a new meaning of reminding. The mundane slips away unnoticed, until one day you are much older and in a pondering mood. Then you think to yourself:
“Whatever happened to that Tshirt?”
“What color were the car seats in my father’s MG?”
“How big were the rose bushes when we first moved in?”
What will that shoebox of photos look like in years to come? Will it be a simple collection of CD sleeves, thumb drives and data cards? After you have dug through the stack of plastic to find that back up disc, can the experience of computer viewing ever match the tactile sensation of sorting through the old shoe box? In so many ways, the cruel glass of the monitor separates us from our photos, giving us no room for touching them, smelling them, experiencing them. And what of those half blurry, less desirable shots? In so many ways it seems that the very form of the photos betrays who we were and who we have become as much as the subject matter. Will they survive the snap judgment of the LCD screen preview, or will they be cast away into the void of digital deletion? In other words, have we evolved beyond the need for happy accidents?