Yesterday I went to my friend Jill’s house. We spent time leafing through old photo albums with her mom. We saw pictures of Jill as a baby with her sister and dozens of cousins. I was in a couple of the pictures from elementary school, including this one, where we are clearly all-star dancers:
Jill asked to see an album of her parents when they were in their 20s, and this was by far the most fun to look through. There were photos of her parents when they were first married, celebrating their first Christmas, road tripping in Missouri and throwing parties with friends.
The photos had simple hand-written captions, sometimes only a person’s name, but each one had a longer story. This one is where a sister announced her first pregnancy. This picture is the first time they ever went to the beach and discovered the tragic pains of sunburn.
Hardly any of the photos were staged. Usually no one was looking toward the camera at all, and yet they captured distinct moments and emotions. I loved it. People were smiling in those old photos, but they weren’t smiling at the camera. They were grinning because life was happening all around them. People laughing during charades at a party. Someone finally standing up on water skis after being dragged behind a boat all day. People hugging because they were so happy for one another.
I take pictures all the time. When I pass pretty flowers. When I order coffee. When I find a dress and want to remember what it looks like so I can monitor its price online. We take pictures of our friends when we’re at concerts, in the car, at the mall, walking in the woods, being silly or are just in front of a mirror wearing solid outfits worth documenting. The cameras are always rolling so we don’t miss a thing.
But my iPhone pictures don’t feel quite like these old albums. I loved Jill’s family photos because they captured so much. I felt visceral emotions and I have never met 95 percent of the people pictured. Maybe the key is film. You only have 24 pictures to take, so you bring the camera out when it really matters. Or maybe because the pictures weren’t instantly viewable, the picture taking process was less forced. You point, you shoot, you hope it turns out and go back to enjoying the party with everyone else. You don’t crop and edit the photo instantly. There are no re-shoots. There is no need to stop the party and check what everyone’s Twitter handle is for tagging purposes.
I don’t want to be a grouch about this. I love my phone pictures and despite what many of my photography friends might think, I have learned a little bit about composition and lighting from my silly iPhone. However, I like the old approach too. And I might rustle up a little film camera of my own. A yellowing album full of lively, precious memories is something I’d love to stick in my closet for a rainy day.