When I was growing up, in the 50s and 60s, middle class families always had a camera.
In my later childhood, as the consumer revolution started kicking into gear, simple cheap cameras started being available to the kids as well. But most families had just one camera, and a designated photographer, in our case, my supremely unartistic father.
Why take pictures? To preserve a moment. To document an event. To record something important or amusing. To remember. To admire. To create beauty or art. Do you take them for yourself, or for the ones who come after so that they remember, admire and see the art or the moment that the photographer valued.
We put these pictures in massive albums; several years ago I created a private blog of our family album, using it to help me remember the childhood memories that were lost with my mother’s death when I was 22. People don’t make albums anymore, and there’s little need to edit. We had to choose, though; out of a film roll of 36 shots no more than 10 would ever be worth saving. There was no infinite Flickr with unlimited uploads. Just albums with 50 pages, 6 to 8 shots per page.
My father supposed that he was great photographer. I can’t remember my mother ever so much as holding a camera (this can’t be– there are pictures of me, my brother and my father in circumstances where the only possible photographer would have been my mother). He had a nice, but not a great camera– for one thing it was a viewfinder not an SLR, and he had only one lens. No zoom, no wide. And the worst indictment: that his photographs, even the ones that are interesting for other reasons, are just not very good. They have no focal point, or understanding of scale or composition.
There is a photo of my father as young man, perhaps 22, confronting the photographer– see me! I am important, and I know what I know, better than you ever will! And we all bought it. My father was the family photographer, ipso facto he was good at it. Yet it patently wasn’t true– he wasn’t very good at it. But the force of his belief in this was so strong that we all took it as gospel.
It is a terrible thing to grow up and learn how fallible your parents are.