A Little Contrast

Perry Schmidt, 1918

Perry Schmidt, 1918

This is a photo of my grandfather when he was three years old.  My grandmother gave this to me a while back when she moved out of her place into an assisted living facility.  He would have been 94 this year, were he still alive.  This photograph was taken in Connecticut.  It is a great photograph in terms of composition, especially considering how expensive such pictures were at the time, and how few might have been taken to get this shot.

I am sure they did not have many photographs.  Some may be hanging around somewhere and some may have been lost over time but, nonetheless, the family’s collection was likely small.  When I managed to migrate all the photographs from our old computer to this new one, there were over 8,000 to move.  I knew we had a lot, but I was still mighty surprised to see that number.  We have hundreds of photographs of our children.

There is a great contrast here in terms of what the world was like for my grandfather and what it is like for my children. I give my daughter the camera and she takes 50 photos.  Half of those might be good enough to consider keeping, and maybe ten we might call good.  There is little extra cost to taking all those pics.  Even when I was a kid one had to load film and then develop it just to see what came out.  That could happen the same day but not instantly, and it cost.  I am sure no one would have given my young grandfather the camera to take pictures of the chickens.

Moreover, I pulled out this photo from its clear envelope, scanned it, and now can send it around the world to thousands of people if I want.  I can print copies at home.  It really is such a different world than the world of that three year old boy.

The other thing to note is the chickens.  When this photograph was taken, if a family wanted to eat chicken, someone went outside and caught one, then killed it, plucked it, took out its innards and cleaned it before cooking it.  I think of how connected my grandfather’s family was to their food.  That many people are choosing to have gardens these days, or to raise chickens, is news, but then it was how people ate.

The interesting thing here, or I should say the really interesting thing, is that we are much more connected our photographs than our food.  We take photographs with our telephones but have no idea where our food comes from.  We can manipulate colors and edit out the goofy guy in the background, right at home after dinner, but most of us have no idea how to pluck a chicken, or even what it ate when it lived its confined life, or that it had a confined life, and most of us don’t want to know.  We seem to want to be distanced from our food.

Imagine this brief conversation:

Hey where’d that photo of Sam in Pete’s Mustang come from?

Oh, Jill sent it to me from her Blackberry.

Hey, where did those blackberries come from?  I mean really come from?

I don’t know.  Argentina?  Chile?  Somewhere far away.

My grandfather and his family would have been a tad confused back when those chickens were prancing about.

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