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Friday, Apr 20, 2018
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What’s in a photograph, anyway?

A thoughtful reader recently sent me on a very profound journey. I had written a column about the memories captured in our photo albums and she wrote back asking me to suggest we label our photographs so that our children and future generations will know who is in the brittle, yellowed, tattered and fragile picture of a grandmotherly woman standing next to a little girl.

Her advice made sense to me. My father was an avid photographer, and I remember visiting him in the nursing home with several of the albums he had given me when he moved there. We sat together by the window and I asked him about the people I didn’t recognize in some of his really old family photos. And as he spoke, I wrote their names and family relationships next to the photo in the album.

That was way back when albums had plain paper pages and the pictures were held in place by sticky white corners. Comes now the Internet, digital cameras, Facebook and Twitter and telephones that do everything but cook dinner.

I openly admit to being a technophobe. I have yet to use the camera in my phone because then I’ll have to learn how to transfer it into my computer and get it to print. The very thought makes me nervous.

Videos and the relatively new screen that accepts a chip from our cameras, and then gives us a wonderful endless slide-show of memories, seems to make labeling impossible and perhaps even unnecessary if we index the photos on paper.

But it’s the old, hand-me-down photos that seem to speak to me and remind me of my reader’s advice. Watching my Dad point to an old sepia-colored picture of a bearded man in a long dark robe standing next to a gravestone allowed me to see our one-and-only picture of my great grandfather. As I wrote his name and the approximate date of the picture next to it on the page, I felt a connection and a sense of gratitude to this unknown person who contributed to my being alive. And my Dad’s eyes smiled as he watched me document our heritage. I was glad to have done it together while there was still time.

I’m not sure where technology is taking us as generations expand. But if my grandchildren are any indication, they’ll learn and know how to electronically manipulate and document any kind of data you can imagine. Meanwhile, I’m going to label all the old photos I have so that they’ll know and appreciate whence they came.

And it just occurred to me — at some future time, I may be the one in the precious old photo.

Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”

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