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Preserving memories

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Recently my daughter, Kelly, posted a photo on Facebook. Taken in 1986 it was a shot of Kelly and her older sister, Katie, seated on the couch between my mom and dad. The girls must have been about 8 and 4 at the time. My parents were the same age I am now.

I always enjoy seeing photos of my girls when they were little. My wife, Brenda, teases me because I can’t seem to look at one without saying, “Awwww.” This was also a great photo of my parents. The big smiles on their faces made it obvious how much they adored their grandchildren.

While I enjoyed the photo very much, seeing it on the Internet also got me thinking. The photo was taken with a film camera, and what Kelly has is a 24-year-old print. To post it on Facebook she had to either scan it into her computer or take a digital photo of the paper print.

I see quite a few old photos posted on Facebook by my friends. Like Kelly’s, all of these are pre-digital era shots and probably came from printed photos.

There’s no denying that digital photography is a marvelous invention. We can shoot 100 photos, of which three are great shots, and not worry about the price of film or film processing. We just delete the 97 bad photos and move on.

We can also instantly share those three great shots with family and friends via the Internet. I can see photos of my granddaughters in Pittsburgh in their Halloween costumes on Halloween. When my kids were little we had to take their photo on Halloween, have the film developed and prints made and then mail the prints to my parents. So a week or so after Halloween the grandparents finally were able to see the girls’ costumes.

These days, when my grandson, Justin, comes to visit Brenda and me, his mom will sometimes take a photo of the three of us using the camera on her phone. That evening after he goes home, we can get on the computer and see the photo.

Very convenient.

But I can’t help wondering about the future. I wonder if 28 years from now, a 30-year-old Justin will still have that cute photo of him with Papaw and Grandma, just as his mother has the photo from 1986. Somehow I doubt it.

While digital photography allows us to take photographs with our phones (many of really poor quality by the way), what are we doing with these hundreds or thousands of photos we shoot every year?

I have a computer full of photos at home. Most of them also are archived on DVDs. Relatively few of them are ever printed.

When Brenda and I are gone and our children are cleaning out our house, will they keep all these DVDs? Will they look at the photos on them? In a few decades will they pass them on to our grandchildren, and if they do, will the photos still be viewable?

At our house we have shelves full of photo albums and several boxes full of loose prints. I have one whole photo album my mother made for me 20 years ago that is full of glossy black-and-white prints of me as a baby and young boy.

Many of the photos show me with my parents, my sister and my grandparents, circa 1954. That album also contains the only photo I have of one of my great-grandmothers. Without it I wouldn’t have a clue what she looked like.

Sure, in the pre-digital days having film developed and prints made cost money. But I wouldn’t trade all those old prints for anything. Neither would a lot of other people.

The next time a tornado or fire results in TV reporters interviewing people whose homes were destroyed, pay attention to what those folks deem important. I’m amazed how often they cite family photos as their most precious material possession — and the only one that’s irreplaceable.

So if you must shoot photos with your phone, that’s fine. But I hope you’ll do so with an eye toward the future. Instagram may be entertaining, but it won’t help your great-grandson realize where he got his curly hair.

Doug Showalter can be reached at 379-5625 or

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