Do I capture life for the sake of the story; a butterfly in a jar, graven images on cave walls? Do I desecrate the moment?
Or am I creating something beautiful, making sense of the now to avoid the historical amnesia of incessant futurism?
I begin the process by looking for a wall where we can comment on people’s pictures. However, after calling three friends, I soon realize that most people have abandoned the family photo for framed art or empty walls. Christy visits Colorado and Texas and runs into the same problem. So, we switch from wall photos to photo albums.
My mom stops by the house and hands us a stack of albums. It’s a disjointed postmodern narrative, telling the story in fragments; sometimes backward, sometimes chronologically. I open one book and experience a flood of memories: crimped hair, Hammer pants, and memories of the “My Buddy” advertisements.
I turn to another album and glimpse into my parents’ youth. My dad is young, idealistic and smiling as he carries my sister on his shoulders. In another photo, my mom is smiling with an authentic joy, but also with a sense of deep thought. It’s a subtle reminder that I am the product of two people and one love.
Joel asks my mom about my childhood. I listen intently, recognizing that my most primitive memories are held, not by my own mind, but in the mind of my mother. I know that it’s possible to flip through a virtual album on Facebook or iPhoto, but right now there’s something powerful in the physical, tangible act of holding an image of myself and sharing it with my son.
Micah asks me, “Is this Brenna?”
“That’s actually Aunt Susie,” I explain.
He stares at the photo and looks at Brenna, then shakes his head and turns the page. He stops at random moments, asking me if the picture of Mickey is the “real Mickey” and if I really lived in a place with all those trees. He flips indiscriminately through the photos, deciding to comment on random details.
It’s real-life Facebook, with a constant stream of random comments. Except here, when Micah pulls an LOL, he’s really laughing aloud.
I asked Christy some questions about her experiences:
1. What did you do to share comments on photographs? Can you describe the experience?
I asked my friend, Tracy, if I could look at her pictures on her phone. She looked quizzical, but said yes. As I scrolled through shots of her kids and pets, I started commenting on pictures that I liked or had questions about. She answered my comments directly, but also often added a comment and shared the picture with her sister. We all three engaged in picture sharing and commenting for quite a while. I told Tracy later that I’d done that for the Living Facebook blog. She admitted that it was strange when I first asked, but that she also enjoyed the time.
2. Were you surprised at how hard it was to find photographs on people’s physical walls? I think it was simply a matter of timing (one friend packing up to move), and being out of town meant limited on friends’ homes to choose from.
3. Why do you think wall photographs (in real life) have become so unpopular? I read in a magazine article on home decorating a few years that you should avoid having family or personal photographs displayed because when guests are in your home you could seem narcissistic. I wonder how many people have bought that message?
4. How were the in-person photograph comments different than those on Facebook? I look at my friend’s pictures of their new babies on Facebook and they are adorable. It’s different when a new mom hands you a picture of her baby with shining eyes and reverence in her voice. Many of my friends on Facebook are not folks I’ve kept in close touch with through the years so looking at pictures satisfies the question, “What do you look like after so many years?” Sharing pictures in person is more like asking, “Who are you? Share some of your memories and the people or things you love, those that have shaped you.” If I have to use the bathroom in a friend’s home, I often walk slowly down the hall and glance at photos displayed.
5. What have we lost in our lack of physical photo albums? We still have photo books, the modern equivalent of an album. Online photo sharing simply means nobody pulls out the family photo album and subjects guests to an unexciting cruise down memory lane. If, however, someone wants to see shots of your family and the vacation you took, they can. Maybe the lack of albums has impacted the amount of picture cruising we do with the children in the family who are not online.