Out of the Blue

Picture This

A voyage into the past

By Deborah Salomon

What follows is about pictures.

As a reporter for 40 years I learned to call them photos. Sounds more professional, like “film” instead of “movie.” But lately, watching families sift through the contents of burned out or flooded homes, I’ve reverted to pictures, which better describes amateur snapshots memorializing . . . everything — the first baby’s first bath, toddler birthday parties, a basset puppy named Duffy, skiing, football, school plays, beach vacations, graduations. I have a picture of my mother, born in 1902, with her parents and baby brother, taken in 1906. My father brought back reams of sepia-toned pictures from World War I, in France, including one of the ambulance he drove. I went wild with my own grandchildren; every week the drugstore got a roll or two. Doubles, please, so I could mail some off.

Must be thousands, crammed into plastic under-the-bed boxes. Sometimes I pull one out, like slipping through a door overgrown with ivy into a secret garden. Remember Bert who drew a better world in sidewalk chalk, for Mary Poppins to jump in?

If only we could jump back into our pictures.

Often a picture will prompt a memory not altogether pleasant. That’s me, in Rome, feeding the famous Forum cats, who live on handouts. Sad.

Recently I wrote two features about couples in their 90s who had lived noteworthy lives. In preparation for the interview, each had spread scrapbooks and photo albums on a table. True, the pictures only depicted good times although, inevitably, happy turns sad as the generations pass.

At least nobody handed me a cellphone to flip through.

A picture/photo is tangible, printed on sturdy paper. It can be framed, tucked into a wallet, affixed to a refrigerator or, as non-agenarians do, mounted with caption in an album. I’m amazed the black and white photos I took with the first Polaroid camera (early ’60s) have not faded. Otherwise, I endured the wait, whittled down to an hour, until the film had been developed. Then I would re-live the event, perhaps from a different perspective. Like the hilarious pictures of my grandson on his first birthday. He dug into a piece of chocolate cake with both chubby hands, smearing it all over himself, the high chair and whoever came near. Now, I can smile. Then, I had to clean it — and him — up.

Digital cameras, and cellphones, have changed everything. I know, I know. Phones are omnipresent, meaning you never miss a shot. Photos can be sent by text, emailed. Cellphones and cameras can be plugged into other devices that print, albeit on flimsy copy paper. I’m sure there’s a way to back them up into some cloud or facility located in Never Never Land, but do you actually do it? Furthermore, cellphones are slippery little things that slide out of pockets and purses. But I don’t know anyone who routinely prints out the day’s catch to store under the bed in a long plastic box.

Not that plastic would protect against fire and floods. If climate change continues to destroy homes and lives somebody will hawk a secure metal container on late-night TV. As for albums/scrapbooks, I’m not that organized. Instead, to select pictures for this page I pulled out two dusty boxes, sat on the floor and went through hundreds of pictures, helter-skelter, taken over a 120-year span, from a grandmother I never knew to high school friends I had forgotten. I saw my first prom dress (scratchy net), all the apartments and houses I’ve lived in, cats and dogs I’ve loved, a ferryboat-sized Buick station wagon and a spiffy Olds convertible. I relived college graduation — mine and my daughters’ — and my son’s wedding. Yes, that’s me interviewing (Princess) Grace Kelly, during the filming of her last movie, in Asheville, in 1955.

Two boxes down, one to go, maybe another day when a storm has paused all electronic activities. Because getting lost in the past cuts both ways. I found pictures of gravestones, of healthy classmates who have withered with age. Of styles that now look silly: Mondrian-inspired mini-dresses, go-go boots and extreme bell-bottoms.

Kinship with homeowners poking through the ashes for a wedding picture, a son in Army uniform or a 50th anniversary cake runs strong, as does recalling the anticipation of picking up developed film. Digital isn’t the same, at least for me. Because, after all these years, one picture is still worth a thousand pixels.  PS 

Deborah Salomon is a contributing writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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