PIC­TURE PER­FECT

Pre­serve those pre­cious fam­ily pho­tos

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - EDITOR'S LETTER -

My mother Mar­jorie is a dark horse. The in­tro­verted chalk to Dad’s chatty cheese, Mum has al­ways as­sumed an agree­ably ac­qui­es­cent po­si­tion in our fam­ily. As a mother, grand­mother and ex­pert con­flict res­o­lu­tion ne­go­tia­tor – I’ve never known her to take sides, not even mine – she sim­ply goes with the flow.

But back in her day, she had spunk, style and legs like a su­per­model. Be­fore she mar­ried Dad and had chil­dren, she wore the short­est shorts I’ve seen since my teenage niece, Jaime, turned up to a re­cent fam­ily cel­e­bra­tion wear­ing frayed-at-the-crutch denim cut-offs. When my sis­ter gen­tly sug­gested her daugh­ter’s at­tire wasn’t ap­pro­pri­ate for her grand­par­ents’ 49th wed­ding an­niver­sary din­ner, Jaime replied with a with­er­ing eye roll: “It’s not Break­fast at Tif­fany’s, Mum. It’s Bazza’s Steak­house in Pukekohe!”

I should have taken a photo, for that sassy teenager would never be­lieve, were it not for pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence, that I had legs like hers, once, and so did her grandma.

Mum rocked the 1960s. When she was 19, she boarded the train from Frank­ton to Welling­ton with her best friend Fay, caught the New Year’s Eve party ferry to Christchurch and em­barked on a bus tour of the South Is­land, pos­ing in their shift dresses and san­dals in front of mu­se­ums and mon­u­ments from Te­muka to Ti­maru.

They recorded it all for pos­ter­ity on Gran­dad Al­bert’s vin­tage Le­ica and Mum stuck all her pho­tos into a ring­bound for­mal photo al­bum. Later, with the steady hand of a draugh­t­ing cadet at the De­part­ment of Lands and Sur­vey, she wrote tidy cap­tions in white ink un­der­neath each pic­ture.

That’s how I know that Mum and Fay had as many dif­fer­ent cardi­gans as there are days of the week; that they clearly packed their hair­nets and rollers; and that Mum can’t spell cathe­dral.

When I was a child, our fam­ily’s “of­fi­cial” pho­to­graph al­bums lived in the side­board and were only taken out on spe­cial oc­ca­sions, usu­ally when a fam­ily get-to­gether had run late into the night and too much sherry had been con­sumed, paving the way for mem­o­ries to leak out into our lounge.

There were only three vol­umes – my sis­ter and I didn’t ar­rive un­til Vol­ume

III, and at least half those photographs were later edited out in fits of teenage shame. Note to par­ents: you might think it’s cute to take pic­tures of your chil­dren in the buff in the bath with all their cousins, or squirt­ing the gar­den hose at each other, au na­turel, or with bad bowl cuts and polo­necked skivvies un­der match­ing home-sewn frocks, but your chil­dren are likely to shred them years later.

Fun­nily enough, by adult­hood those are the pho­tos we prize: the un­in­ten­tion­ally hi­lar­i­ous ones, like my in-laws pos­ing out­side the Auck­land Reg­istry Of­fice next to a “Best for Less” bill­board, or Dad giv­ing his wed­ding speech with empty DB bot­tles for ta­ble dec­o­ra­tions, or my late grand­fa­ther in his knit­ted Tam o’ Shanter, which I swear was ac­tu­ally one of Grandma’s tea cosies.

My favourite old photo of my­self is a pre-teen por­trait taken on the look­out at Huka Falls. I have a

pink Alice band in my white-blonde hair, which is the same snowy shade my youngest son, Lachie, now sports, and a coy smile like a pre-Charles Princess Diana. I’ve never looked quite so in­no­cent again.

Would that im­promptu por­trait have made the grade as a mod­ern selfie? Un­likely. I’d prob­a­bly have de­clared it un­flat­ter­ing, or tried to fid­dle about with dif­fer­ent In­sta­gram fil­ters, or sim­ply hit the delete but­ton.

It wasn’t that long ago that de­vel­op­ing photographs was an ex­pen­sive lux­ury. One roll of film – 24 ex­po­sures, or 36 if your par­ents had been feel­ing flush – might last a whole year be­fore that tiny time cap­sule was taken into the lo­cal chemist’s for pro­cess­ing. Get­ting that packet of pho­tos back, still smelling of dark­room chem­i­cals, was as ex­cit­ing as the night be­fore Christ­mas, for there were faces and places, and the oc­ca­sional dearly de­parted pet, you’d al­ready for­got­ten about.

Dig­i­tal pho­tos, on the other hand, are a dime a decil­lion. We take them in their thou­sands, yet rarely, if ever, print them out... or back them up.

I learned this les­son the hard way. Killing time stuck in a mo­tor­way traf­fic snarl-up, I was scrolling through the pho­tos on my phone when I hit the wrong but­ton and ac­ci­den­tally deleted the folder con­tain­ing the first three years of Lachie’s life. Those pho­tos weren’t saved any­where else.

When I fell preg­nant with my first child, Lu­cas, the very first thing I did – after pee­ing on the stick for con­fir­ma­tion – was rush off to the spe­cial­ist sta­tionery store kikki.K to buy a fancy baby al­bum. (Be­fore I had kids, I fool­ishly thought I’d have plenty of time for scrap­book­ing.)

Lu­cas’ baby al­bum be­gan with the best of in­ten­tions, his ul­tra­sound scans re­veal­ing his progress from a baby pea to a 10-pounder, but I’m ashamed to ad­mit that his al­bum ended on the day he was born, with a dozen po­laroid pho­tos hastily taken in the ma­ter­nity ward. And since then? Seven years of empty pages, aside from the oblig­a­tory an­nual school por­traits.

I fi­nally rec­ti­fied that this month, sort­ing, se­lect­ing and print­ing 100 of my favourite fam­ily pho­tos to stick into a proper al­bum. It took all day, largely be­cause I kept be­ing dis­tracted by how much my chil­dren have grown (a good thing) and how much their par­ents have aged (not such a good thing), but also be­cause it trig­gered so many mem­o­ries along the way.

If a pic­ture tells a thou­sand words, a fam­ily photo al­bum de­serves to have its say. Granted, the story mine tells is of a free­lance gar­den­ing writer with a good friend in photographer Sally Tagg. “Why?” my chil­dren will no doubt won­der when they are adults, “were we al­ways pos­ing with gi­ant pump­kins, piglets, pas­sion­fruit, paeonies or jars of pre­serves when we were kids?”

Should you feel like­wise in­spired to cre­ate your own al­bum, do take the time to cap­ture warm-fuzzy mo­ments in the cap­tions. (When Lu­cas saw his first baby lamb, he cried: “Look! Mum! It’s a tiny sheep kit­ten!”) Cap­tions count be­cause mem­ory is fal­li­ble, and the last thing you want is a fam­ily pho­to­graph al­bum full of faces that no one can put a name to when you are dead and gone.

LEFT: Lynda’s mum in the 1960s, pos­ing in her shift dress and san­dals, with “legs like a su­per­model”. ABOVE: Pho­tos of Lynda’s sons, cho­sen for her mem­ory al­bum.

Lynda spent a day at her desk, putting her pics in an al­bum us­ing photo cor­ners, and go­ing back through her fam­ily’s old al­bums.

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