Years ago in a cafe, my young son and I were sitting near two women who were having a heated discussion. Eventually one leaned over to me and asked if I carried a photo of my son with me. As it happened, I did have a picture of him. The woman looked at her friend triumphantly and said “see, everyone does.”
Aside from the obvious problem of generalizing from a sample of one, my possession of an image on that day was a consequence of my son having just had an particularly flattering passport photo taken. In fact, I didn’t normally carry his picture — I had never thought to cut one up small enough to fit in my wallet.
But it got me thinking about the abundance of photos I DID possess of my son — and how normal is seems for parents to turn the camera lens on their offspring.
These days, with smart phones and social media, it’s only a matter of personal taste how quickly after (or during) birth, photos of our children can be spread around the globe. Seventeen years ago, when the boy-child came into the world, the Big T did have his camera at the birth, and we have several slightly out of focus shots of me in the delivery suite holding our newborn. But in those pre-digital, pre-FaceBook days, the photos were taken on film, and weren’t available for anyone to see until all 24 shots on the roll of film had been exposed and developed. As both sets of grandparents lived in other countries, it would have been at least a week or more until they saw images of their new grandchild.
A generation earlier, when the boy-child’s grandparents were becoming parents, the processes of capturing and sharing images of their children would have taken even longer. For a start, although both my father and father in law were keen photographers, neither were present at the births of their children. The earliest photos of me that I’m aware of were taken at my christening.
Go back another generation, and camera ownership was less widespread. We are fortunate to have photos of both my parents as children.
Although the Box Brownie (1) was first released in 1900 — revolutionizing photography by making it affordable to ordinary people — amateur photos don’t appear before the 1920s in either the Big T’s or my family (2), making our parents’ generation the first whose childhood was captured by enthusiastic family members, rather than professional photographers.
By contrast, I have a collection of studio portraits of my grandmother Margaret Cruden, and her younger brother Stewart, as small children.
I’m not sure why there are so many portraits of my grandmother. She and her brother Stewart were the eldest children of Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black. On my grandmother’s birth certificate, her father’s occupation is shown as coal miner, and it’s unlikely the family was particularly wealthy. However, my great grandparents (or possibly their parents) took the children to several different studios for sittings during their early childhood.
While I love these glimpses into the childhoods of my grandmother and great uncle, the last image saddens me, as all photographs of little boys dressed up as soldiers sadden me. The photo was taken probably during World War I, and I wonder if my great grandfather had already signed up. My great uncle has such a sad, slightly lost expression on his face.
(1) ‘The Most Important Cardboard Box Ever.’ BBC Magazine 5 January 2015 http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30530268
(2) With the possible exception of the Dove family, of whom we have a few images thought to be c. 1913-16.
Happiness isn’t something you experience; it’s something you remember.
— Oscar Levant
I’ve been on holiday for three and a half weeks with the Big T and our boy-child. We’ve stayed in six cities, taken eight flights (four of them long-haul); ridden trains, trams, buses, street and cable cars; and visited galleries, museums, castles, skateboarding spots, monuments, relatives, friends … well you get the picture.
In the process we’ve laughed, cried, yelled at each other and wondered (sometimes aloud) what the hell made us think spending that much time in each others company might be a good idea.
It was difficult; we are very different people. Our interests (and body-clocks) don’t particularly coincide, and some of us (well ok, the kid and me) aren’t particularly gracious in compromise.
But it had to be done. The boy-child is now 17; graduated from high school and on his “gap year.” He has plans and dreams and a vision of a future that looks outward towards his friends and his own adventures. It’s unlikely we will all holiday together again (at least not until the boy-child is much older and needs a set of live-in vacation childminders), so this time together was vital.
We’re home now and beginning to retell our holiday stories to friends and neighbours. In the process, the rough edges are being smoothed off and the quality of the memories is improving. It’s already starting to feel like a great holiday — something to hold close and cherish forever as our child hurtles towards adulthood.
To everyone who has started following this blog while I’ve been away; many thanks. I will get over to all of your blogs to say hello and thanks properly as soon as I can.
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
— Langston Hughes
Seven exams down, one to go. The boy-child officially graduates from school on November 26th. The graduation invitation arrived the other day, with notification that he’s won an award. His world is changing and none of us knows what the future will bring.