Kristin and I went to Wilmington last weekend to see friends and have a baby party. We stayed with Kristin’s parents, and during the stay I was able to look through a couple hundred old photos (out of thousands) of her and imagine what our baby will look like.
What struck me about the photos was the contexts – holidays, birthday parties, vacation trips – as well as the quality. Most were shot with a Kodak Instamatic with 126 cartridge film. The photos were printed square with rounded corners. The exposure was mostly decent.
To be clear, we are talking about a plastic box with one fixed plastic lens, one aperture and one shutter speed.
For the most part the snapshot is a record of Kristin at age four in front of the Christmas tree or me standing near Niagara Falls. The images are usually something that, when you see it, starts a flood of “remember whens” and “I still have that shirt!” comments.
Like I said, they are not necessarily aesthetically pleasing or ready for enlarging and framing, but they are mentally amazing in that they contain your history in visual form. They fill in the gaps of memory and help give structure to the self buried beneath years of labor, school work and the everyday.
I think the snapshot went dormant awhile back as an anthropological and archeological phenomenon. Cell phone cameras have the capacity to revive that. I hear people disparage Instagram and Hipstamatic all the time. Sure, people are trying to create masterpieces every time they tilt the lens or add one more filter. But for the most part they are creating a visual document of the moment, something that can be riffled through at some point in the future and looked at with revived feelings. Each instant photograph is important to someone. I don’t care who and I don’t care why.
If we try and shoot the greatest, most emotional photograph of all time, every time, we will get frustrated and fail to get even the basic vibe of a snapshot. And that shot is sometimes all we really needed to capture; it will tell the story for decades.