The beauty of looking at pictures the old way

The local fire department in which I am a member recently celebrated it’s 90 years of existence.  Now, a 90th anniversary is no small thing, and we celebrated accordingly. There was a big garden party held for the general public, as well as a parade of classic firetrucks and a formal gathering of invited dignitaries the evening before.

Over the recent years I’ve become the go-to photographer in the department – a job that I take great joy in. Of course I am there to do other things beside simply taking pictures, but whenever they need to cover an important event, I’m usually the one to do it. Situations can range from emergency calls to different social gatherings and celebrations, like the one we just had. It’s all on a voluntary basis and no one gets paid to do any of it, which is part of the fun, I think.

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A topic like that deserves a dedicated post though, for I had something else in mind today.

One of the guests at the birthday party was Mr. Albreht, a long-time secretary for the fire department. He is seen in the cover picture sitting in the middle. Though he passed on his duties to the younger generation and mainly enjoys the quiet of his home, he still attends most of the bigger gatherings from time to time. He is also quite an outspoken guy and has asked me on occasion to have a couple of photos developed, so he’d have a memory of the event. Of course I’m happy to oblige – he’s never been pushy about it, always insisted on paying the expenses and is genuinely happy when I bring him the photos.

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It is even more of a satisfaction for me, for several reasons. Firstly, no one ever asks for physical copies any more. I usually just pick out the good pics and post them on Facebook, then tag everyone and wait for the likes to start dropping. Admit it, it’s what we all do. Of course it feels good to see that red notification marker, but there’s no real emotion in it. It can’t compare to actually handing someone the pictures and seeing their reaction for the first time. And we generally don’t even look at pictures on the screen, we just quickly glance over them.

Then there’s the trip to the photo studio. This might be a nuisance in many ways, especially if I had to do it often. As it stands now, on only go there every once in a while, either for Mr. Albreht or the local hiking club, where I’m also a member. The pictures are usually printed in about 30 minutes, just long enough to have any ice cream at the guy across the street. I remember having to wait for days when my dad took his film to be developed when I was a kid. It helps a lot that there’s usually an attractive girl who works there as well. Makes my day easily, a unique selling proposition. I wonder if I’d even be going there if it was an old fat bloke instead of her…

Lastly, there’s the joy of having the actual photos in your hand and delivering them over. It’s a different feeling than simply doing it because someone’s going to pay you. I could have said “yeah ok” when Mr. Albreht asked me for those photos. Then I’d pretend I’d forgotten, who knows when I would see him next and by that time it would have slipped my mind and his completely. The photos would be left in some file on my computer, forgotten like most of the others.

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It took me no time at all to get them. While for some they might be just slips of paper, I’d like to think he’ll look kindly on them. It was funny, he was very upbeat about his funeral plans when we talked. Like he had the whole thing planned out already; who to invite and who not to, what it’s going to look like and so on. He didn’t look terminally ill or anything, but I guess you start thinking about these things when you reach old age.

Or course I wish him luck and good health for however long he wishes to stay with us. But I’m sure those photos I brought him will endure somewhere and mean something to someone. Maybe in a decade or two his grandson will find them in an old album and wonder at the life he lived.

***

So many things are digital these days. From pictures to pastimes and friendships, it all seems rushed and artificial at times. Instead of a smile and a thank you we crave for likes and comment replies, and the talk is often about cats or how some guy fell down the stairs. The story expires as soon as you scroll down to the next irrelevant bit.

If by now you’re still reading, I suggest you stop and look for that dusty box of photos. Bring your granddad along if you still have the chance and listen to his stories. And if you have a hard drive full of pictures, pick out the best ones and invest 20 bucks for a nice album and have them developed. In the end, it’s about you, your past and your memories.

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