So now I’m the family photo keeper—the happy owner of several generations worth of semi-random hodgepodge, including some obscure B/W great-relative snaps that look like they belong in a hipster’s wank stash.
They came into my life as a couple of large boxfuls of dusty chaos. In search of a shot of empowerment between masochistic bouts of job-hunting, I’ve pared them down and bestowed a tich of chronology. After exorcising all the duplicates, negatives, old-school print packets, and blurry closeups of thumbs,
they now take up like a third of the space the original collection did. Yay me!
I’m not much into photography per se, but the memories these pictures stir have been a source of comfort as long as I can remember—especially the ones where I’m single-digit- aged. There’s something about pawing through those faded prints that sends me to a softer place. Partly because I had what passed for a conventional family back then, going by the impression those images show.
Well… conventional for the most part. The snap above is my grandpa, dressed as a hula girl for Halloween. It’s my favorite picture of him—the cheese-eatin’ grin with the ever- present cigar hanging out of it, his Italian body fur blending with the grass skirt, the flower tucked demurely among the blond curls of his wig. He looked a lot like Groucho Marx during the “You Bet Your Life” years, and while he was a lot quieter than Groucho, he enjoyed his own brand of zaniness until the day he died.
There are zero pictures of Mom looking even a little pregnant (that Wasn’t Done back then), but tons of us with bald heads and nappies. Seeing long-memorized details through adult eyes gives me insight about who my parents were. Turns out they were just people, not the gods every kid thinks their folks are. Still kinda stuns me a little.
The more recent ones were mostly mine originally—friends, weddings, shows, multi- shot views from the tops of mountains we’d hiked (the kind you manually “stitched” together after you got ‘em back from the developer and went slightly mad trying to get elements lined up right). I’d order double prints and send the duplicates to Mom, so she could live vicariously through me. All those pix are mine again, now.
There’s no date stamping and no Photoshopping here. When you took a picture of a double rainbow or your friend with a standup comic, you hoped like hell you got a good shot and that the lab people wouldn’t fuck it up (which they rarely did, for the record). Any pics you wanted to share went through the mail, and if you wanted a reprint, that was what the negatives were for. Yeap, it’s done a little differently these days.
I tell myself that all this effort is for posterity, but I’m the only one who cares about the people and memories in these photos now. After I’m gone there won’t be anyone at all… so yeah, it’s actually for me.