IT HAS been on my to-do list for, oh, coming up 10 years, but I still haven’t found time to “Make Family Photo Albums”. And now, I fear I never will.
Because in the decade or so since I had children and set myself the task, photo albums have joined phone books, street directories and regular eye contact between human beings in the category of “Things That Don’t Really Exist Anymore Because of iPhones.”
I know I could spend a half day sifting through iPhoto and order a photo book from the 50,000 images stored there. I could reactivate my Facebook account, where no doubt the virtual album made in 2008 still exists, complete with unnerving comments from a random male colleague from three jobs ago. “Looking good, Megan!” Shudder.
But those aren’t the sorts of album I mean. I’m talking about the kind your parents still have in the rumpus room cupboard. The big, fat ring-binders with squishy padded covers and sticky pages that make a crackling sound when you open them. And inside, a perfect, slightly yellowing chronicle of your childhood.
Each image is so familiar – six-year-old you in your cossie running the hose down the slide, your barefoot brother posing beside his billycart, your mum in her maternity sailor dress about to have your sister – that you can’t even say if you remember the actual moments or just the round-cornered 6x4 version of it, preserved behind plastic that’s lost its stick.
Today, our memories are held in a digital camera roll. And most of them will never be turned into something you can hold in your hands. According to a recent survey by Samsung, only 23 per cent of the photos we take end up being downloaded, printed and put in a traditional album. And 34 per cent of those surveyed said they did not have time or even knew how to print their pictures, but one in 10 claimed to share photos on social media within 60 seconds of snapping them. (A further 52 per cent had posted them within a week.)
But do photographs work the same way or count as “memories” when they were taken a minute ago? When they are muddled in with a dozen shots of golf clubs you’re selling on Gumtree, not captioned in your mother’s familiar writing (“Jenny’s first dance, 1983”)?
Whereas maybe a hundred or so photos memorialise our first 18 years – more if your dad fancied himself as arty, fewer if you came late in the birth order or the lens cap was routinely forgotten about – today’s parents will have shared an average of 973 baby photos on social media before their child is five, says research by UK online safety body Parent Zone. I’m not sure that 64 blisteringly high-res photos of my daughter’s first day at school are any better than one good one glued in a book somewhere. At what point in the future will we ever sit down as a family and look through them? (And how many more Storage Almost Full notifications will I be terrorised by in the meantime?)
Of course, our parents took terrible photos, too – most notably the four shots they took of the dog to “finish the roll” – but the more significant expense of family photography back then, the scarcity of images, and the two-week wait for prints to come back from the chemist made even the blurry, blinky ones feel so much more precious. So much so, in fact, there would be a tiff in the back seat over who got to go through the packet first. (Hold them by the corners! For heaven’s sake, don’t touch the negatives!)
My children know no such wait, and no such prize. They use the camera app as a mirror and take selfies like it’s their job, but the same Samsung study found only 13 per cent of their 18- to 24-year-old peers have ever “used” a photo album. And I’m sorry for them, not least because our mortifying bathtime baby photos (all the children in together, shampoo mohawks, snorkel masks) only come out on special occasions. Theirs are and will be available all the time, to everyone, forever. At best, it makes them junky and embarrassing. At worst… so much worse.
And whether it’s my age or my slight white wine hangover, the growing catalogue of experiences my children won’t have because so much of life is recorded and lived through our singular devices gives me a feeling akin to homesickness. A constant, aching nostalgia for so much more than just furry-paged photo albums.
That my soon-to-be teenage daughters will never spend hours on the hall phone, lying with their feet up the wall, and talking for so long their ear gets hot and they have to switch sides. That I’ll never mortify them by picking up the kitchen extension to tell them to get off because I need the line open in case Nanna rings.
I was made properly misty-eyed by a recent story in the New York Times magazine about the address book the writer’s mother kept in the kitchen drawer, “one of the small visual details of my childhood that I can perfectly conjure… filled with her formal, spidery script… addresses crossed out and replaced with new ones as friends’ lives shifted.” A tiny thing perhaps, except, as the writer noted, “I knew when she was looking for someone’s phone number. My own children do not know when I am searching for a phone number, because all they see is me, on my iPhone, intently focused on something mysterious and decidedly not them.”
In the greatest of all parental ironies, who has not ignored what their child is actually doing in the moment because we are trying to bring up the camera app to photograph it? (Meanwhile in the UK, The Times recently reported about husbands who claim to be treated like “human selfie sticks” by wives demanding another 150 goes at getting a perfect candid shot.)
I wonder as well how my children are supposed to develop character without the critical learning experience that is remembering you had a school project due only after the library had closed for the day and the one family on your street with a set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica had gone away. (You knew this because their caravan wasn’t in the drive.)
First cheque book as indisputable proof of adult status? No such thing. Making a mix tape by recording off the radio? No one learns patience or hair-trigger timing that way now. While there is nothing I can do to simulate any of these simple and lovely experiences for my children – I can’t even explain them properly to their confused millennial ears – there is one thing I can do, and I’m finally going to. After just a decade on my to-do list.
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Last Saturday my parents had to go to for an appointment alone so my brother and I had to stay at home. After doing my homework, I went into the living-room to do some cleaning there.
As I was dusting the wall-unit, my eyes fell on the photo albums of which there are at least a dozen. I went through some of them in a few minutes but was stuck on a special one for me. While looking through this album, I was quite amazed at how many photos were there of me.
My childhood memories were quite nice to remember especially at that time. I forgot the cleaning I had to do and took a good look at my photos. My memories ran back to when I was born. My first photo was taken when I was still a few hours old. How very small and red I was. I could not believe my own eyes. Mother held me close to her. There were more photos of me when I was still in hospital. I had one taken when the midwife was bathing me.
When mother took me home she took more photos of me there too. The first she took of me was with my brother, my father and me. At that time I was only 2 days old. My memory ran back to that time that I don't remember happening. In a special album there were photos of when I was baptised and of the party my parents gave for the occasion. Although it was my party, I did not have any fun like the guests did. I was almost all the time asleep in my cot.
I saw photos of my first walk, my first day at the Kindergarten School and at the Primary School too. Memories now were clear when I went for an outing with the Kindergarten. I had many photos taken at parks, museums and gardens. My pets at that time were a puppy and a kitten. I always loved animals. Every time my parents took me somewhere they always had a photo taken of my brother and me. My brother and I played alot together and we always had great time.
With out so many photos my childhood memories could never become real for me because at my early age I couldn't remember many things...