My grandmother’s likeness was stored in a tiny Black & White photograph 3×3″. She stood stiffly in her nine yard sari next to my grandfather who was in a pith hat, a black coat and white trousers. They were posing in front of what was their home, a small stand alone bungalow somewhere in rural Maharashtra. My mother’s likeness too was stored in similar fashion as were those of my in-laws and my husband and myself.
I was cleaning out the cupboards the other day, when I came across four stacks of photo albums. There were at least twenty albums documenting the lives of several generations spanning over a hundred years. These photographs captured moments in different families, those of my parents, my in-laws and my own family now brought together in one cupboard in one home. There were pictures of family sitting on horseback or in buggies wearing and dhotis and nine-yard saris. There were uncles and aunts, some never seen and just heard of who formed (like the Uncle who stayed on to eat my grandma’s special brinjal curry and stayed on for four years!) and some departed and cousins and friends who came into their lives. The photos of my parents and in-laws were of the same vintage and were kept in velvet bound albums held together by silken tessellated chords. The photographs were neatly placed on thick black sheets, kept firmly in place with corner mounts while fine tracing paper separated the black sheets. The children, who stared out of fading sepia prints, looked awkward as they shyly smiled their best smile before the flash made them blink. They looked equally self-conscious with friends, spouses and family standing stiffly in front of ancient monuments or at special occasions. From their baby pictures to their weddings and their children’s weddings the albums documented their lives in photographs ranging from sepia to Black &White, Polaroid and Kodachrome.
Some photos were small, minutely detailed like miniature paintings in small contact sheet prints while others were printed on squares of 3″x3″, the size gradually increasing with the affordability of photography. Storing photographs too changed over the years with black sheeted albums giving way to the more practical plastic. Some albums were plastic pocket pages while others were self sticking sheets covered with plastic sheets. These albums trapped in air bubbles and moisture as well as the photographs often rendering them discoloured and faded.
Then came the digital age and the era of the “idiotic camera” when everyone who had a finger could click and every moment was captured in full Technicolor : Baby’s first tooth to baby’s first poop graduating to hundreds of mindless shots of head touching friends smiling from ear to ear and year to year. Birthday parties, holiday memories, they all came tumbling out in various shades of sepia and colour. Some people have long vanished while others have changed beyond recognition.
Last week, a friend from Canada whipped out her iPad and began showing us photos of her family – and not only were they stills, they were morphed, Photoshopped, Instagrammed. There were even videos that captured movement and sound with amazing clarity. I love this new and digital age which makes photography such a breeze. No longer do we have to bother about film speeds and aperture sizes and good light or bad. Nor do you have to worry about “wasting” a shot and can click away without impunity safe in the knowledge that all photos that are shaky, fuzzy or just plain bad can be deleted with a click. It is no wonder then that every granny can whip out her iPad or Smartphone or DSLR or whatever and capture forever the smile of her loved ones. With WhatsApp and Instagram there is no need for photos to be printed out and with shared albums in the virtual world all one has to do is invite someone to his space in an iCloud or shared drive and allow anyone in the Universe the access to his photographic memories.
With his digital memories stored in a digital world, will my grandchild have the thrill of coming across a faded photograph in a dusty album stored somewhere in a cupboard? Or would his memories be more delightful captured as they are in real-time in a medium that is more realistic with sound and light?
As a mother of two thirty-year old daughters and a grandmother of a nineteen week old grandson, Sunita Rajwade has been there and done that. A hands on mom, she has seen two girls grow successfully through baby hood, toddler hood, adolescence and adult hood; solving their maths problems and contributing to their angst of growing up with a mom “who doesn’t understand”. But now as a grandmother, she’s being appreciated for her “wisdom” and “understanding” and would like to share my experiences of this wonderful journey from motherhood to grandmotherhood