Photographs and Childhood March 08 2008, 0 Comments

I grew up in a small town that in the fall looks like a box of Crayola Crayons has exploded all over the trees. As a child growing up in the sixties, it was a place far removed from the horror of Vietnam and the daily protests we all came to see as Walter Cronkite brought us the evening news. It was a place were you could ride your bike to the corner store to get a ten cent Hershey bar and play kick ball with the neighborhood kids until dark or at my house, during the week, until dinner. Back then, your neighbors rarely moved. They were there for life, many of them being related to you. Some of my relatives still live in the homes they grew up in and many of my favorite neighbors are still there.

My older brother played baseball with his friends down the street on a vacant lot owned by a widow named Mrs. Hardy. I imagine seeing the boys play there, especially in the summer gave her a sense of being needed, if only for her lot! I remember coming home with my mother from the grocery store in our old Buick and seeing all those boys running and covered in dirt! A house sits on the lot now. It looks as though it was dropped out of the sky and mistakenly placed there. It is fancy and the lawn is so perfect, you’d think that no-one would ever dare walk on it. It doesn’t even try to blend in with the farm houses and ranch homes built decades ago. I wonder what Mrs. Hardy thinks of that big, oddly placed house on her old baseball field as she looks down from above!

My parents still live in that small little town, my dad now 75 and living in the house that he built back in 1962 and 1963. Until then, my parents lived in the apartment above my grandparents but when they learned another child was on the way, me, their third, my dad began to build the house I grew up in, the house he still lives in with my mother just a block from the house he was born in and grew up in.

What does all this have to do with photography?? The point is, I have mental photographs of my childhood. Happily, I have the photo albums too! My parents took photos of all of our childhood events. I can go back to them at anytime. I can see how I grew up and look at my relatives. Looking at the images, I can hear their voices. Memories come rushing over me whenever I care to call on them. My sister has taken photography to new heights with her two girls. She is not a photographer but does have some terrifically creative ideas.

After each of her children was born, she took their photo on the first day of each month. At the end of the year, she would take the twelve photos and place them into one of those multi-photo frames. She did this for the first five years of their lives hanging each completed year next to the last one. Since babies and small children tend to change so quickly this told a wonderful story of how they were growing and one could see the progression of their physical growth and of their emerging personalities. At the end of the five years, she had documented all of the subtle changes we forget, all of the spur of the moment looks that only a child can offer. She has photographs of every first day of school, every sport they have played as well as all of the usual events, birthdays, etc… But the images of those first five years when her children began to get a sense of themselves and of life are the true story.

Photographs, as most have discovered, are not just for special events. They are for documenting all of the moments of our lives that share who we are at the time they are taken. What a wonderful gift to create for your children, especially in an age where we are so transient. Really. When was the last time you lived next to the same neighbors for forty years???

In 1970, when Alvin Tofler published, Future Shock, he went into great detail discussing the “Death of Permanence” and how we truly have become a transient society. Photography makes permanent even the most transient life, affixing it forever to film…now known as a memory card.