Say Cheese

I still remember one of the most distinct features of our family vacations. My mom would bring out the camera from her already overloaded bag and hand it to my dad. Then dad would make mom, my sister and me stand in front of a pretty mountain or lake and instruct us to look natural. It was very easy to do so for my sister. She would generally be so uninvolved in the process of posing for the photo that she barely looked at the camera preferring to gaze at a nearby tree or cow. She would look slightly dazed and a bit keen and overall like a distracted angel with a faraway look. My mom would smile politely at the photo. I, on the other hand, suffered the most. The minute the camera came out of mom’s bag, every single muscle in my body would begin to clench till I finally looked like rigor mortis had set in. I would try to look mature and grown up and end up frowning. Snaps of mom, me and my sister always showed a pretty and thin lady flanked on either side by before and after pictures of Lucifer. Every vacation had one snap of dad posing with the rest of the family. I am not sure exactly who used to take these snaps when we vacationed alone. I am quite sure dad was not comfortable entrusting the precious camera to a passerby in the mere cause of a family snap.

When we came back home, the film rolls would be carefully removed from their dark plastic boxes and given for developing. The photos would then be sorted out and pasted onto an album specially bought for that occasion. Over the years, we must have collected about twelve to fifteen albums. Every once in a while some unsuspecting guest would be given the albums to browse through. Most were quite happy to do so since very few people actually vacationed in exotic spots (like North India) and liked to look at what the world looked like.

I am pretty sure we never discarded any of the snaps that were taken. Given the limited amount of film roll that one could carry without going bankrupt, every snap was neatly planned and worth looking at. Candid camera happened but usually about two snaps in a roll.

I am not sure when I was considered old enough to touch the camera and photograph people. But I do remember my dad giving me lots of instructions on how to focus and bring everyone into the frame and so on and so forth. If I had been asked to press the launch button of a rocket, I could not have been more terrified or excited. I remember one excursion in school where a friend had brought along a camera. The news did the rounds in exciting whispers. She had orders for 52 copies of the group snap even before she had clicked her first snap. Through school and college, the fact that I could take the family camera for important occasions like farewell parties and college functions became a symbol of the trust my parents had in me.

It came as a perplexing turn of events when my sister finally bought my parents a digital camera. I was traveling like mad around then and borrowed it frequently. However it took me a while to realize that I could record practically every single moment of the trip thanks to the digicam. It was only after six or seven trips that my snap count began to hit a hundred. I would come back home and show them eagerly to my parents and they would sit and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ appropriately. I glowed.

Then it was my parent’s turn to take snaps at a cousin’s function. I realized that I did not quite like the fact that I had to pose so often and so frequently. Nor was I happy to sit through a slideshow of various relatives, most of whom looked very vile and got me thinking about what kind of a gene pool I was part of. However, the digicam was a two-way thing and I was polite.

The toughest part was visiting friends. All of us had morphed into our parents and visits involved browsing through snaps of the latest vacations. Unfortunately unlike our parents no one found too many places exotic, nor were the snaps limited to the maximum of thirty six that came in a good film roll. I tried to suppress yawns as the screen changed into the three hundredth picture of dolphins in the Singapore show.

If live shows were not bad enough, I received atleast two sets of snaps every month from different friends and cousins, most of which were given a quite burial in my mail box. However, I realized that sometimes photos have a way of catching up with you. I shared a cab with a friend from town to Bandra and saw the sixty two snaps he had of his young son and the two pictures he had of himself and his wife on his grainy camera mobile. I staggered out of the cab promising myself not to show anything that resembled enthusiasm when asking ‘so how is your kid doing?’

Like all things available in plenty, photos no longer have a charm. They need to be breathtakingly impressive or sent by someone I really care about before I deign to give them my time. The last set of photos I was really blown away by were some old black and white ones which my mom had printed. They were the size of today’s passport snaps and our family, sized like hobbits in them, looked very young and very distant.

I must admit that there have been some good things too. For one, though I have learnt to relax and smile at a camera, I still look terrible in 299 out of every 300 snaps taken. With my digicam, it is actually possible for me to have one snap every year in which I look good. So someday when I show the edited version of my pictures to my grandchildren, they would know that I did grow from a frowning, thin, awkward child into someone who looked pleasant before turning into an old crone. I do hope they care about me enough to actually sit through all those snaps. I also like the fact that when my sister is gushing over Google Talk about her new couch, I can ask her to mail me a snap immediately and then we both gush together.

Maybe it is just a question of no longer thinking like the previous generation and treating every single photo with sanctity but view the camera in the context of the brave new world.


Bharathis said...

Very well-written! I recollected all those trips with nostalgia:-)

SK said...

Wow, beautifully written. :--)
And very true!
Although I still love looking at pictures.

Anita said...

thanks both of you

BananaFish said...

Yo Anita, I so relate to this post. I still haven't exchanged my trusty Nikon camera I bought in 2001 for one of those 2 GB nightmarish digital cameras. I want to snap my own head off when someone swivels around their laptop and starts browsing through their gazillion photos.

I just love the joy of only having 33 photos to take, you need to put in thought into each photo instead of clicking away like a mad man and I love the excitement of giving the reel for development and collecting it the next day. You know what they say ' A camera reel is like a box of chocolates you never know what you're going to get'

Very well written.

Anita said...

Bananafish - glad you enjoyed the post. Though I do love my digicam. If only I would get around to sorting out the photos I want to print and keep....:)