Tuesday, May 7, 2013

pictures to hold

I've been spending a lot of time scanning old photographs recently, and it's been odd to see how often those images from the past seem to resonate with what's happening today.

For example, on April 15, 2013, in the middle of crawfish season, I happened to scan a photograph of crawfishermen with their catch taken on April 17, 1967. And two days before May Day 2013 I happened to scan a photograph of a May Day celebration at St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in 1942.

You could say they're just random coincidences. I've scanned almost a thousand photographs by now, and the odds are pretty good that these things will pop up from time to time. Yet I do feel a kind of circling back in time. 

It's not uncommon to find old photographs printed on paper with rounded corners. Virtually all of the old photographs from the 1940s that I've come across are printed on heavy card, set inside an ornamental frame. Photographs were precious objects then, rare and exquisite treasures, and the prints served as tangible souvenirs to have and to hold.

It would have been easier to make the prints exactly rectangular. That's what happens today, if the photographs are even printed at all. But they're not as special with four sharp corners. They're not as treasurable. Rounded and framed, they announce that they're meant to be regarded, that they're meant to be held in the hand and admired.

Which brings me to today. Our smartphones have rounded corners. They're also meant to be held. And when I see the old photographs on the screen of my iPhone, I think about what it must have been like to hold a photograph seventy years ago, and I circle back in time.