It’s no secret that I abhor the term “selfie.” It’s smug, self-serving and annoying. But worse than that are the actual selfies themselves. I long to ask someone who takes them exactly what look they were going for—you know the ones I mean:
- One eyebrow raised archly, mouth turned down in a frown
- Eyes wide open, lips pursed in a little pout
- Tongue sticking out, fingers forming the “V” sign
- Frenetic look of ‘wow–are we having fun or WHAT?!’
- The model stare – sulky, sultry, world-weary
- The ‘how drunk am I?’ look
Seriously? Is this how people want to be remembered?
My mother spent many, many months painstakingly collecting information on our genealogy. During that time, she found many pictures, personal and public records, much of which she found in libraries. She traveled from place to place and interviewed many people face to face. It was a labor of love and hard work.
The pictures she found were wedding photos, showing very serious young people in their wedding finery. There were many of babies, all looking crabby and overdressed. Then there were all the military photos, showing thin intense young men in full military regalia. Hardworking people, dressed in clothes that were practically rags stood exhausted in front of one-room shacks, their unsmiling children around them. At that time, it wasn’t unusual to take photographs of the dead, too. There is one poignant little picture I remember of a dead child, mourned so long ago.
Photographs from those periods show life in its often hard reality. Photos were meant to preserve special events, people and places. At that time, photos were kept safe in special albums, and you could spend a pleasant few hours looking through time itself through photos.
My dad was a professional photographer whose work is now legend in countless homes. For years he took wedding pictures, generations of senior pictures at our high school and, as I was in musicals during all four years of high school, took the photos that became part of the programs for each show. The last musical in my senior year was “The King and I,” in which I played Anna. On opening night, my dad presented me with something far more precious and long-lasting than flowers: a beautiful red leather album of pictures from nearly every scene in the show. On the first page he had written, “Jane: my love, my life, my joy, my Jane.”
It is a gift I cherish still. Dad had a lab in the house, and he must have been up all night to get that album done for me. It was and remains to this day a magnificent gift of love.
I don’t think that anyone ever thought that pictures could ever be any different; that is, that there would be portable devices on which to show pictures, or that pictures as we knew them once would cease to be. Pictures now are as ephemeral as the ‘cloud’ in which they now reside.
I think it was this casual attitude that lead us to where we are now; “selfies,” for instance. Really, does anyone want to pick up an ancient cell phone and see pictures of their great-grandfather in his underwear, sticking out his tongue and triumphantly holding up an empty beer bottle?
As for me, I prefer our old photo albums.