Even though I’m feeling a little Bah Humbug this year, I’m still a sucker for holiday schmaltz. Most of my holiday memories are good ones, and I love all the trimmings that come and go with the decades, so I enjoy looking at Christmas through the lenses of other people in other times.
Today’s old snapshots are examples of Christmas celebrations from the 1950s through the 1970s, I’m guessing. They all come from eBay, where a number of people sell them to collectors. Click on any image for a larger version.
Most of these folks look happy, and I like to think that the images represent good times. But as we all know, the holidays tend to put a spotlight on family dynamics, both good and bad. Behind each photo is an interesting story, I’m sure.
Nowadays the photos are digital, which in theory makes them more permanent, though I think of them as more fleeting. Once a photo is viewed onscreen, it tends to be relegated to a file folder on a hard drive somewhere and is unlikely to be seen again. We do still make prints, but very selectively.
Gone is the feeling of discovery that came from there being a physical location for pictures. You’d come across them when looking for something else, or cleaning, moving, or just exploring.
And my favorite part of traditional photography was that you would get all of the pictures back in print form — good and bad. Sometimes the bad photos turned out to be the most interesting ones. With digital images it’s almost too easy to delete the mishap photos and only hang on to the best.
I’m not completely opposed to the changes that come with digital images. With sites like Facebook and Flickr, images are seen by many more people than when there was only one print to view. That’s great for relatives and friends. But we don’t know if those sites will be around in 40 or 50 years for us to look back on.
These snapshots seem to capture a moment in time much more than today’s photos do. Back then photos had real physical value — it was unusual to throw away a photo, even a bad one. And the technology of the day was evident in the physical aspects of the photo.
Another change is that we’re now taking a lot more pictures. In the era of these photos, the camera was often brought out only for special occasions, and for some people the cost of each image was meaningful.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m all for modern technology and its accompanying quality improvement of snapshots. Progress is undeniable. But some of the pictures here gave me chills when I saw them, not just because of the emotions they represent, but because of the flaws in the technology of the times, which make the people in them seem more vulnerable somehow.
Someday our two-dimensional still photos may be just as dated as the hairstyles and fashion choices in these old images. However, they will physically look the same as they did the day they were taken.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think a memory should be slightly faded, scratched and discolored.