saul_in_unformSaul, 1945, oil on canvas, by Caroline Fox Weber  (photo: Andrew Seguin)

My parents didn’t own cameras. My mother the painter—gauzy watercolor, eerily textured acrylics, oils with their visual depth and rich, resinous scent—thought photography a second-rate medium,  especially in the hands of amateurs. (She would be grateful for, admiring of, the photographer who has archived her work under my brother’s direction.)  My un-mechanical father just about managed to instruct me in the use of a Baby Brownie, which he and my mother dutifully gave me for my 10th birthday while yawning all over the process and the product.

I’ve sometimes yearned for the sort of fat albums my friends seemed to have by college age, but I developed a defensive line, iterated so often that it tastes like holy writ: “Photographs stop time. They’re an untruth.”

When videos came along, they caught the flow—at such a price! A whole generation of fathers weren’t actually present at their kids’ early birthday parties because they were frantically framing the precious moments, editing out the tantrums and spills, rehearsing a sentimental narration in the future past tense. “Honey, remember when . . . ?”

Cell phone cameras have been a boon to justice and freedom; I’m awed by self-deputized journalists who capture salient moments and flash them around the world. But, oh, the thumbers! You know: folks who can’t make it through a restaurant dinner without stroking their screens—dizzying, masturbatory motions—to show you a hundred views of an eggplant slice that looks like George Washington.

Today’s 10-year-olds will have libraries of images—not just albums, but clouds; will they have memories? Grow up without a camera, and your eyes—and ears, nose, and sense of taste and touch—record what’s imperative to save.

Maybe I’m just partial to my own deficiency, proclaiming—in the delicious idiom of programmers—that what appears to be a bug is actually a feature. And I’m no great steward of physical objects. I have a few precious photos of my kids, and even a couple of my parents (they did allow a wedding portrait, swoonily gorgeous). But many have vanished. So I’m grateful for the secret album in my mind, its images sharp and bright, miraculously impervious to the blight of memory loss that robs of me of names and birth dates.

On Father’s Day, I have a ritual. I close my eyes and open the Daddy album and go back to my first memory . . . .

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  • Diane Dettmann June 20, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for sharing the vivid images of your mind photos! The images of the “polio pool” and the ferris wheel struck my funny bone and took me back to my childhood. With the cost of developing film from our Brownie camera, my mother became a strategic photo taker. Our family album covers almost 50 years. The black paper pages have worn thin, many of the pasted black corners have fallen off the black and white photos and someday the album will be gone. Good thing many of those pictures are filed some where in my head!

  • B. Elliott June 20, 2015 at 8:18 am

    What a beautifully written and evocative piece! Many thanks.