Photos of a lifetime – digital can’t replace prints

At the recent funeral visitation of a dear aunt, a television showed a slide-show montage of pictures of my aunt, her children and grandchildren and her many friends. Accompanied by a recording of some of her favorite songs, the images replayed across the screen and provided a small glimpse of her full life and courageous fight with the cancer that claimed it.

Family and friends moved awkwardly through the quiet room at the funeral home, trying to think of something to say or do to share in their mourning. People wandered over to the TV set in the corner and watched a few moments of the photo loop my youngest cousin had compiled. There were some smiles as they watched the pictures appear and disappear across the screen, but eventually everyone was drawn to the three large boards about ten feet away. Mounted on the boards were snapshots that dated from my aunt’s childhood in the 1930s to the present.

After a time, anyone who peered at those photographs forgot to act appropriately sad and just reacted genuinely to the images. My aunt had saved all her old photos and her children had hurriedly mounted dozens on the boards and tucked many others into several albums that were scattered across the coffee tables in the funeral home. Soft giggles turned to guffaws as people recalled ugly, forgotten fashions and saw unflattering poses of pregnant, swimsuit-clad housewives from the 1960s. One photo in particular showed about six adults seated snugly in a child’s pool, water barely covering their knees, and one unidentifiable woman wearing a bathing cap as if even a drop of water could have reached her head. We laughed until we cried.

Some of the pictures were thick and scallop-edged or curled with age, others had lost most of their colors of the 1970s, but every photo had a warm memory attached to it. We gently took some of the pictures off the board in order to see them better through our bifocals and handled them carefully before returning them.

My family bought a digital camera over five years ago and we have yet to print a photograph from it. I miss dropping off a small cylinder of film at the drugstore, waiting a few days, and then ripping open the gummed envelope with someone peeking over your shoulder to see what the camera captured. Does everything have to be “I want it all and I want it right now”? There’s something to be said for anticipation and saving things on paper rather than in a camera or computer.

Thanks for the memories, Aunt Rose, and thanks for keeping them so we can enjoy them, too.