For a good portion of my life; the memories, the good times, even the not so good times were captured on photographs. I am not speaking of those we see every day on social media, usually consisting of an inordinate number of selfies or close-ups of what someone is having for dinner. I’m speaking of actual photographs; you know, those taken with a camera. Yes, cameras are not quite passé as yet, simply relegated to professional photographers, however, I fear that for the everyday man and woman they are. It’s just simply too easy and convenient to hold our phone up and “fire away”, and, in all fairness, the technology is getting better and better. Yet, for me, there is something still beautiful, magical and even haunting about looking at an actual printed photograph.
In one of our closets are 30 photo albums. A visual history of life and existence as I remember it. Some of the photos are old and frayed. Some taken in black and white and others so old that the color has faded enough to look as if they are black and white. Some have faded inscriptions on the back of them, indicating the year and the event. Many of the inscriptions are written by loved ones no longer with us.
At times, I simply “get in the mood” to pull down a few of those albums and simply thumb through the pages of photos. I’m quite certain that if one were to film my face as I viewed each photo, they would observe quite the scope of facial emotions; a chuckle, a laugh, a sigh, a tear. They would observe a blank stare as my eyes turn from the photo to space. I am looking at nothing, staring into space, reliving the moment, the emotion, the day itself. Often I can feel the breeze, smell the air or the grass or the dinner as it cooked. I look closely at the people in the photo and I feel like I am back at that table on 418 west 17 Street. The whole family is there enjoying Christmas Eve dinner. Mom’s expression is one of love; her face says she is happy that her family is together on this special night. Dad’s smile says “ this is why I work three jobs…. to make a night like this possible…aren’t my boys dressed nicely tonight? “ I catch the aroma of Uncle Dicks cigarette as he lights another. I catch a whiff of Aunts Fils’ perfume. Then I turn my attention to the next photo.. and I travel back in time to a new location, another day… another memory…. and there in front of me, that memory sits…. locked forever in a small, warm photograph.
I love old photos of places as well as people. I can thumb through an album and come across a photo of a place or location that triggers all kinds of emotions and memories. Gazing at the small, wrinkled, photo I’m transported back to that place, even if just for a moment. The feel of the place, the aromas, the sounds. though faint, they are just as real as when I was actually there. I have included two such photos as attachments to this post. One is of the front of the grammar school I attained as a kid, PS 41. As I get into this photo, I hear the sounds of the passing cars and the distinct voices of other kids. The “ street sounds” of NewYork. It seems to always be a crisp , fall morning in this particular flashback. I’m now getting in the proper line to be ushered through those glass doors by a few of the teachers. Waving goodbye to Mom as she stays in place until I’m safely in the building. How many years ago?? Not that many when I’m lost in this photo.
The other is one of the “door” one would bump open on the way into the Haunted House at Bertrand’s Island amusement park in New Jersey. Seated in the cart that would take you through the ride, that Skeleton head, with his menacing smile and leering eyes would greet you as your heart began pounding in anticipation. Once through that door, there was complete darkness and frights and jumps galore. Never very brave as a child, my eyes often stayed closed until our cart safely emerged at the end of the ride. As we walk away, I turn and look back at that smiling skull. He seems to be saying, “ until next time”… I turn away and walk just a little bit closer to dad.
Bertrand’s Island has long since been closed. Where that Haunted House stood, a condo now stands. However, in that photo, that worn, haunting photo, I still feel the anticipation, the childhood fear of the dark and scary things. I hear Rob’s excited/ frightened giggle as Mom hugs him a little tighter to protect him from the ghosts and monsters we will encounter. I hear Dad’s distinct and pleasant laugh as he shouts “HERE WE GO” as our cart bumps open the skeletons door… and when the ride is over, I look back… the skeleton is still there..with the creepy smile…” until next time…”
I realize that most likely there are not a lot of photo albums around anymore. It is simply too easy to store our photos on a photo stick or flash drive. However, for me, the emotions and feelings evoked In looking at an actual, worn photo are hard to match. It is both haunting and beautiful. I linger a bit longer as I close my eyes and relive the moment or the place. Quite often I wish that I were back in the moment and that time has not moved quite so quickly. After all, that trip to Bertrand’s Island? That was just last month, right?
Anyone recall this Simon and Garfunkel song?
They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summers
Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day, oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama, don’t take my Kodachrome away