Memories of Photographs

Creativity takes many forms. In addition to writing, I enjoy photography. I am fortunate enough to be able to use a digital camera, so I can take as many photos as I like without having to pay for processing the ones that don’t come out. My father, from whom I undoubtedly get my love of the hobby, never made it into the digital age. (I think he would have enjoyed using a camera that allowed him to see his pictures as soon as they were taken.) He did, however, have a beloved 35mm Ricoh that he took everywhere. He preferred slides, and I have literally hundreds of slides that he took.

My dad had all the gear, and he knew how to use it well. He juggled the camera, a separate light meter, and a separate flash. I loved that flash. It had a reflector that spread out like a fan behind it, and closed up when you weren’t using it. It had to removed from small, curious hands more than once during my childhood. He had a big leather case he kept all of it in, too, along with spare metal canisters of film (plastic canisters in later years), cleaning tissues, and anything else he thought he might need. Dad’s camera bag was always fun to rummage through. (I’m not sure he felt the same as I did about having me go through it.)

Dad would shoot a roll of film and then take it in to the store, which in turn would send it away to get it developed. (You could send them in the mail to be developed, too. I sent rolls from my little Brownie camera to Jackrabbit for developing. It was always exciting to get them back!) Then, when the developed slides came back, out would come the projector and silvery screen, the curtains would be drawn, and we would look at slides. Usually, older slides would come out, too, and memories would flow. Slide viewing was a family event. For all of the convenience of digital photos, viewing them is a solitary thing. I miss the discussions and memories that went along with looking at slides as a family.

There were favorite slides, of course. My favorites were the oldest ones, especially from before I was born, probably because it made a time when I did not yet exist more real. There was one slide that always gave me a delicious shiver, because my parents said it had a ghost in it. There was, indeed, a large white shape on the river bank in photo – a white shape that my parents swore hadn’t been there when they took the picture. Frankly, it looks like a sheet blowing in the wind, except that there were no houses or clotheslines in the area of the photo. I guess we’ll never know for sure, but that photo always gave me chills when I saw it. (Of course, I often asked for that one and then hid my face when I saw it!)

Many of the slides are landscapes, particularly the autumn scenery along the South’s big, slow tidal rivers. After I came along, Dad added me to his subjects. And every year, he took a special photo to be made into a Christmas card. I was invariably dressed in something red – in one case, even a red bathing suit. Some of those photo sessions were candid, but others were not, and I recall wondering why I was standing in front of the pyracantha bush, with its bright red berries, and why I was supposed to look like I was doing anything but posing for my father and his camera, and thinking how much I hated the pants I had on because they had stirrups that went under my feet. (I was about three at the time.)

Jane jumping into the river.

From one of the Christmas cards. Probably the summer of 1963, when I was 4. I was jumping into the Black River in the Low Country of South Carolina. Note the red swimsuit – red was the color for the Christmas photo, no matter what time of year it was taken! (And yes, I swam like a little fish.)

A few years ago, a cousin of mine was going through some old photos and came across several of those Christmas cards. She posted them to Facebook, to my delight. Treasured memories came back to me, and I started wondering where I had put those slides. I finally found them recently. I transferred the boxes of slide carousels and plastic boxes of loose slides from the disintegrating cardboard box they were in to a plastic tub, wondering how I was going to look at them properly, since the projector no longer worked and the screen was long gone.

A borrowed projector solved part of the problem, but the long-term problem – what to do with hundreds of slides that you’d like to see more frequently – remained. Budget constraints keep me from sending them (there really are a LOT of them) to one of those handy places that scan them for you; I suppose I’ll have to bite the bullet and get a scanner that can handle the slides, along with a case or so of canned air to clean them. In the meantime, I have the few that were made into Christmas cards to spark old memories – memories that have made it into some of my stories.

My own photos are digital these days, but I have many pre-digital prints from when my kids were small crammed into a plastic tub, waiting to be put into albums. (My span is the opposite of my dad’s – I started taking photos of my kids when they were small, and now that they are grown, I have progressed to taking landscapes, although mine are mostly of the arid and dramatic West rather than the lush South.)

I hope that someday my photos can bring back the memories for my kids that my dad’s do for me. And I will continue to enjoy this form of creative expression that often adds inspiration to my writing.

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