Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Equivalent of a Selfie

Spring has sprung on us suddenly, here in "sunny" California. We've been plunged from cloudy andthankfully—rainy weather almost immediately into temperatures in the mid-eighties. Naturally, everyone has headed outdoors to take advantage of the welcome change. Those suddenly green open spaces are full of people walking, tanning, cyclingdoing almost anything to soak up those desperately-missed rays of sunshine.

The other day, I drove past a corner with a patch of green upon which a young woman was sitting, face turned upward. I would have thought she was just luxuriating in the solar warmth, until I realized she was actually taking a selfie.

What is it about selfies? What compels people to constantly be taking—and postingtheir own pictures?

That's what I was thinking, at first, when I glimpsed that social media tableau. And then I realized: this person was no different than any of us who have gone to a photography studio to pose for our portrait, or send our picture as our Christmas greeting card, or even include it in our business card. Think about all the years in which you have enclosed a pictureyours, solo, or flanked by familywith a letter. If we've done things like that over the years, it's really no different than the selfie-absorbed snapping their own digital likeness.

And no different than our tech-savvy ancestors who were the first to try out those snazzy carte de visite formats or their successor, the cabinet card. Surely, those folks sent out as many tokens of their forward-thinking remembrances as was budgetarily permissible. 

Yet, in finding a home for the abandoned family photographs I've been rescuing from the back bins of antique shops, I sometimes encounter people who wonder, "How did you get a copy of this photo?" Of course, that's what I wonder, myself, and often try to retrace the path the photograph might have taken that landed it in such a forsaken position.

What some people mean, though, when they ask that question is: how did this family's photo end up with a descendant of that family? Well...probably the same way our children's college graduation portraits ended up in the file cabinets of our former bosses, or their "save the date" engagement photos got tossed in a box when our next door neighbor packed up and moved to Florida.

Worse, while some of those pictures had names on them, some of them didn't, dooming generations of descendants to wonder: who was that gangly kid from Podunk U and how does he relate to me?

For my part, of course, I opt for the photos with at least a partial name and location, if not the full name, when I am searching for photo-rescue candidates. In the case of the photo collection I've stumbled across in a Jackson, California, antique store—all the possession of Thirza Browne Cole, though many, apparently, not her own relativesthey may be nothing more than the nineteenth century's equivalent of sharing one's selfie, a way to send a token in fond remembrance of the past, when the connection between two people was closer before Time and circumstances intervened. 


  1. Sending photos was popular back then...cameras had a bit of magic about them:)

    1. Even then, it must have been a status symbol to be the first on one's block to use that new gadget, whatever it might be.


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