This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for August 8, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
While researching my family history in preparation for writing my first book, It Must Be the Noodles, I spent a huge amount of time gathering together a collection of family photographs, some of which I used in the book, and some that were the basis of the whimsical sketches I drew for each chapter. The inconsistency of the quality of the old pictures made it difficult to illustrate with photos only.
My iPad and other electronic devices allowed me to enhance the quality of some of the pics, but they still didn’t come close to looking like the high-resolution photographs my granddaughter takes with her state-of-the-art Canon digital camera. Photography has come a long way since it was first discovered!
George Eastman created and sold the first Kodak camera in 1888. In 1900, Eastman produced the first Kodak Brownie, which was essentially a cardboard box and sold for one dollar. Then Brownie Two was introduced in 1902 and sold for $2. Most of the pictures taken by my mother and her sisters in the 1920’s were snapped on a 2Brownie no doubt.
Even though Eastman added a 6-20 flash in 1940 and a built-in flash in 1957 (the year I graduated from college), I never owned a Kodak with a flash of any kind. When my brother and I took pictures in the 1940’s and 1950’s, we made sure we were outside with the sun behind us. Yet even those photographs were not so great! Thanks to Eastman, however, those of us who were poor could afford a cardboard box camera! Without the invention of the “snapshot,” only professional photographers would have been able to record history-in-the-making with cameras! But this butter-mold size cardboard box made it possible for any and all of us to just point and shoot instantly. Thank you, Eastman Kodak!
Posting old family photos on my Facebook Page, “Ray Spitzenberger, Author and Artist @WendWriterWhittler,” has generated an enormous number of responses from Page Visitors. Folks seem eager to see old-timey photos showing the way it was in the good old days. The unexpected response made me wonder why so many of us are eager to return to the past the only ways we can, via old photographs, old phonograph records, and everything else antique.
Especially old photographs! There seems to be an almost magical element here. We bring Great Grandma back to life by devouring those images of her, and meeting and seeing her though she died before we were born, or before we were old enough to remember what she looked like. Or we revisit those we knew and loved so much!
Perhaps that’s a little of what the producers of the movie, “Back to the Future,” had in mind regarding the rather startling scene in the movie involving a photograph. In the movie, Marty kept a photo of the three children of George McFly and Lorraine Barnes McFly in his wallet, and referred to it when he was stuck in 1955. First, the top of Dave’s head disappeared from the picture. Then Marty’s own image began to fade, and soon after that, Marty’s hand. When a movie-goer watches this scene, he cannot but help to think of Einstein’s Theory of the Relativity of Time. Certainly that was my thought watching it, and it really spooked me.
Einstein theorized that space and time are essentially the same thing, which can be called “spacetime.” Einstein also believed that gravity can bend time, so time can speed up or slow down depending on how fast you are traveling in relation to something else. Time dilation seems to be an accepted fact by those who work with space travel; and what even spooks me more, is the belief of some physicists that time is not real, — I suppose they are saying it’s an illusion. Unfortunately, when I look at old photographs, I cannot help but think about “Back to the Future” and these extraordinary theories of time.
Well, our fascination with old photographs has nothing to do with the Relativity of Time, I would hope, but it does bring us the kind of joy that only great memories can bring!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.