Photos of photos
At a recent gathering of older men (me being the oldest), someone brought out his smartphone and showed a photo of himself some 40 years back. Hip, long hair. I remembered his stories about how he had been a member of a dance group, the ones that would dance in discos.
The others in our group followed, and the session became an old boys’ gathering bragging about an earlier time when we had more hair, no wrinkles and were many kilos lighter. Happy times; one even showed his wedding photo.
It seems more and more people are taking photos of our old photos, and storing them in our cell phones.
Who would have thought the telephone would evolve into a smartphone with smart cameras producing not just photos but videos, but also taking up new functions? At conventions and meetings and class lectures, for example, you’ll find people no longer taking notes, just raising up their phones instead to shoot the PowerPoint projections, oblivious to possible violations of intellectual property rights.
I do like the “photocopying” functions of the smartphone camera, where you take photographs of important documents for safekeeping and easy reference—something you should do for passports, visas, IDs, credit cards. Some businesses, like banks and cell phone service providers, now routinely use phones to take a picture of your IDs and application forms.
Then there’s what I call a time-tripping function. I went into this full blast after my parents died this year, when I was fixing their files, including hundreds of photographs in boxes, some of them going back to the 1930s. I would pause and use my phone to shoot the interesting ones.
A lesson here for readers: Don’t wait till your older relatives have died to do this. Better to digitize (which is what you’re doing with the smart cameras) the photographs when your loved ones can still tell you the back stories of such images: who were in the pictures, what the occasion was, how were they feeling. They can even choose the photographs they want to be included in the PowerPoint about their lives—something that has become standard fare in our wakes and memorial services nowadays.
Shooting, and keeping, old photos in your phone can have unexpected advantages.
Recently, in the Netherlands, I brought my son to visit Sjaak van der Geest, who had been my adviser for my doctoral research. We were exchanging pleasantries when Sjaak’s wife, Betty, said it had been such a long time since I visited. I suddenly wondered, had it really been that long?
Then I remembered I had photographs of that last visit, and I asked my son to look for them. A digital native, he found the photographs within a minute. Sjaak and Betty were so totally amazed at how he did it. I explained that each photograph we take is tagged by their date and, through GPS (global positioning system), their location. So there were the photos, identified by the little village Sjaak and Betty had made their retirement home, and the date: May 24, 2017.
I had visited only a year ago, admittedly after a hiatus of maybe 10 years. Back in the 1990s, though, when I was working on my PhD, I was in the Netherlands every year, including twice with my mother, and the van der Geests had met her. She had amazed them—“a tiny woman” (their description) in her 70s still physically active and engaging in her conversations.
It was a pity that those visits weren’t recorded with digital photos or videos, so this time around I made sure to take many more photos of my stay in the village: in the van der Geests’ home, in a windmill, in several farms, in a camp site, and a video of my son and Sjaak diving into a river and my son screaming from the cold.
On the plane trip back to Manila, I browsed through photographs taken only a few days earlier and found myself already feeling nostalgic. One photograph from that visit was of my mother—not her in person, but a digital shot of an old photograph that I had brought for the van der Geests. I had left the living room for a few minutes and came back, surprised, to find they had put up her photograph beside two small vases of flowers, and placed next to that of one of their grandchildren, who had lived 16 days. It was a kind of memorial nook.
More and more, memories of our lives, and friendships, will involve photographs of photographs, accompanied by stories told and retold.
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