Birthday number 53 is near for me. My maternel -Ma tante (aunt) Doris sent me a 30 year old photograph as a gift. On the right are my maternal grandparents, Henry and Cecile. Karry and I are on the left, circa 1978. My middle name is for Henry, who was an automobile mechanic.
English was a second language for my mother’s side of the family, but sadly I cannot speak French. I do remember a few words, from the times Henry and Cecile wanted to speak to one another without me knowing what was said, but that’s about all I have of them. They are gone, but their French expressions fill my childhood memories.
I’ve had the photograph on my desk for couple of weeks. I’ve been musing about the willowy young man with the grizzly bear beard and denim clothing. Would he recognize himself now? 30 years have left the expected scars and bruises on that guy I see in my mirror these days. And lately, I resemble Henry more than the young man with the bushy beard. Yet he remains inside there somewhere. Among the interesting thoughts this image brought to mind revolve around that question: just how much of him/me does remain?
I was big on organic gardening back then. I had a greenhouse. We had chickens, inside Redding city limits (shhh, don’t tell). I was reading a lot of science fiction, and how-to manuals about alternate energy like Solar and Wind. It’s curious to consider that those sorts of ideas have now become mostly mainstream. Begrudgingly, we had a tiny black and white TV, with 3 channels. I brewed my own beer. We had a new VW Rabbit and an International pickup (aka a cornbinder). By trade, I ground lenses for eyeglasses in what was then the oldest optical lab in California, Redding Optical, on Gold Street. We lived in a Buckeye dam-builder’s house, with termites. Lots and lots of termites. Back then we did not have professional exterminators like Termite Control Kansas City, so we had to make due in our termite-ridden home.
The photograph is a true Kodak moment for me, frozen time on a 3×5 sheet. It wasn’t ever digital till now. The people in the photograph knew nothing of personal computers and the internet. Even so, just a few years later, Karry and I owned one of the first “personal” computers in Redding, an Apple II. We were standing on the cusp of the digital era when we were captured here on film and paper, in a shoot I didn’t remember ever taking place until I opened the gift from “ma-tante”.
I had a Canon 35mm back then and mostly shot slides. I take a lot more pictures now, but all digital. Will they evoke similar musings for somebody 30 years hence? Will they even be available? Given their ephemeral digital nature, it’s a serious question to consider. A cascade of pondering marks birthday 53, and the image serves as fertile catalyst today. The power of photography.