I found this picture the other day, amongst a number I inherited from Mum. On the back, in my gran’s handwriting it says: ‘R101 from bedroom window’. The R101 was the British government’s attempt to find a way for long haul air flight and two were built, here. Understandably, given the hype, seeing this was something of an event, so it justified the camera being taken from its case and an expensive piece of film used for this somewhat fuzzy shot.
Capturing events, big and small on film is one example of the rapid changes we have seen over the last few years. Take this picture.
I’m seven, maybe and we’re on the beach near Ramsgate. I vividly recall Dad’s fury at me ‘mucking’ up ‘ the picture.
My first ever holiday with the Textiliste in 1978, where we hitched to and across Southern Ireland – I’m at the top of a mountain somewhere on the west coast – that could be Bantry Bay behind me. The point is not to showcase my fabulous torso or my appalling taste in hats but to note it is black and white, the cheapest film we could afford because of the expense of colour.
My children, still, to me, young in their 20s, were captured on film in their early years. I’ve been scanning them for ages now and can remember well the visits to Boots to have the films developed – the queuing on a Monday morning, the astringent smell of the processing fluids, the little tear off slips, so infinitely precious and the slight frisson at 4 o’clock as I dipped out of the office to collect the prints hoping (a) they hadn’t been lost and (b) there hadn’t been some awful failure of the film or the camera and I found I had 24 neat squares of black edged white.
Sometime in the 90s a digital camera emerged, then a smart phone. Now my struggle is for memory – not the ‘why did I go upstairs’ sort of struggle, but the capacity to store sort – with thousands of pictures I now take. So to say I’m promiscuous would be an understatement. And the facilities I can employ – tints and twists, enlargements and crops – I can even boomerang on instagram for pity’s sake. Ok, so this one is really the Vet’s but she showed me how… and it’s my pudding!
Sometimes I hanker for the good old days when you viewed a concert through your own eyes and not filtered by thousands of small screens held up in front of you, as happened when we saw Coldplay last year. But that is perhaps a small price to pay for the ability to snap something so quickly and easily.
My gran would have seen the R101 in the early 30s probably. She remembered the announcement of manned flight when the Wright brothers made history in 1903 and I sat with her 66 years later when Armstrong walked on the moon. She didn’t bat an eyelid. I often wondered how she absorbed so much change in her life time, how she came to terms with it. Yet we do. We marvel at the disruptors who change for ever the way we do things, we absorb it, process it and move on.
Sometimes we talk about the speed of change, how it is forever increasing but that suggests a smooth progression. These changes are far from smooth; they often change people’s lives dramatically, not always for the better if jobs are lost. They jolt us forward. But we will always be ready to adapt. Evolve. That’s what we’ve always done. Even if it means I now have some 10,000 pictures to try and catalogue….