Throwback Photos – Part 1

I mentioned that my Mom sent me home from my last visit with old photos, and one of my tasks lately has been to get them sorted and organized. This is a huge project that is getting folded into sorting through more recent photos that I already had stored away and have been meaning to organize for years now. As the history girl I am, I want to keep all of my old documentation in nicely-organized chronological order, but also, I’m trying to prepare it so it will be easier to pass them on to the girls at some distant point in the future. Plus I have crates full of photos in frames that have been pulled out of display as more recent pictures took their place, and now that I have an empty nest that doesn’t get cluttered up by kids’ stuff, it’s the perfect time to pare down everything in storage.

Along the way, I’ve found some fun photos, so I thought I’d share them. And then I realized that this would be a hugely long post, so I’m splitting it into two parts.

First, I’ve definitely gotten to the point where it’s shocking how much life has changed since Olden Tymes when I was a girl. So I wanted to get this down for my daughters, who’ve grown up on digital cameras and phone cameras and have only used Polaroid-style cameras because they were trendy and retro.

Gather ’round the campfire, young’uns, and let me tell you how things used to be. Long, long ago, you needed to have a camera, some film loaded into the camera, and often an extra flash cube to take pictures. If you ran out of film, you couldn’t take any more pictures. So you couldn’t take, say, 17 selfies and then delete 15 of them. Once you ran through all of your film (maybe 24 or 36 pictures), you had to carefully remove it from the camera, ensure that it wasn’t accidentally exposed to light, put it into a little plastic canister, and take it to get developed. Often, you’d drive up to a little hut like this to give them your film:

Usually, you’d wait several days to get your photographs. You might also save money by mailing it away to get processed, which could take weeks. It was possible to get the photos in one hour, but it was about double the price. Actually, I remember thinking that it was crazy-expensive, so I Googled to try to confirm the difference, and I found this super-fun New York Times article from early 1988, with fun quotes like:

”We live in an instant-gratification society,” said J. William Byrd, who owns five Moto Photo franchise shops in Atlanta. ”We want things now. The one-hour, on-site lab can provide that.”

Ah, nothing like the fast-paced, instant-gratification of the late 80s! It was tough to keep track of everyone zipping around so fast, but luckily we all wore neon clothing and big hair to enhance visibility.

Along with the higher cost, another reason why these little photo developing shacks were best avoided is that it seemed like every single one of them was staffed by a creepy-looking guy who would leer at you and definitely seemed like the type who would be way too interested in your pictures and possibly develop extras for his own recreational purposes. Ew.

Since you wouldn’t see the photos you’d taken until much later, you wouldn’t have any idea, for example, that a hair was on the lens, or that one of your fingers was blocking the shot.

This was especially heartbreaking when the photos were otherwise extremely glamorous.

Here, images that possibly could have launched a modeling career from 1976 Padre Island, Texas, are marred by the same random hair in the corner. Again: ew.

Or how about two years later, when I was clearly about to do the kind of fantastic 1970s stunt on a mini-tramp perched on hot concrete that parents just don’t let kids do anymore! I am guessing that this is an older sister’s finger.

The point is, if those of us who grew up in the late 20th century are ever feeling like we were not optimally cute, the truth is: we were not. But it wasn’t entirely our fault.

When photography was brand-new, it was deeply uncommon, and the subjects of photos would treat their one or two photos like an artist was painting their portrait, with plenty of planning and dressing the part. I mean, sure, they had to stay very still awaiting the proper exposure, and this meant sometimes the expressions were a little grim and lifeless, but at least people weren’t accidentally turned away or picking their noses or anything.

And these days, people can take roughly a ga-jillion shots and add filters and follow social media accounts devoted to explaining how to use the best angles and poses to make your images as flattering as possible.

But during that in-between period…? Back, coincidentally, when I was growing up? In between, there were a bunch of amateurs running around with unfocused, dirty cameras with flashes that may or may not work at any given moment, and they took photos in the most random, chaotic way possible, with absolutely no idea of whether their shots were in any way flattering (or not) until days and perhaps weeks later. And sadly for me and many of my contemporaries, the results speak for themselves.

Of course, even with the odds stacked against us, they couldn’t all be duds.

Have you ever heard that you should try to appreciate your face and body of today, because it’s likely that you’ll just get older and more saggy or heavier or balder, so 20 years from now, you’ll look back at today’s photos and think, “I was so lookin’ good back then!”? I have heard this, and I do try my very best not to hate my least favorite aspects of my own appearance. But I have, indeed, noticed that I was cuter than I remember thinking I was. I was particularly struck with this picture from my high school graduation. It pains me that the image is so small (that’s my dad’s arm slung around my shoulder).

Honestly, y’all? I think that this photo might have been my Peak Cuteness. How did I not realize how smokin’ hot I was? It is a little bit sad that my husband and daughters have only known me on my long, slow descent since then. I’ll have to content myself that I am looking better today than I probably will at 83! Although, in fairness, I think once you hit your 80s, people are just impressed that you’re continuing to function. So I’m looking forward to that lower bar!

Speaking of low bars…

I wanted to share this particular photo for two reasons. First, the back of my head is a crazy, stand-up knot of hair. Those of you who know my family will recognize the knot from the back of my own daughters’ heads when they were little. I’m also sitting directly in front of our family stereo. Actually, I just noticed that with the light wood and the textured fronts, it’s kind of giving me the vibes of what this Instagrammer I follow (she makes super-cute and easy DIY coasters) is always doing to furniture: lightening it up, adding some rattan, and reselling for loads of money. But I digress.

This 1970s stereo was a colossal machine. I remember that it was made of three large wooden cabinets, and each side was mostly speakers, and then you could open up the top of the middle one to access a turntable. I used to pretend that it was a spaceship, and I’d twist and turn the various knobs to “set coordinates” and then I’d rev up the engine my opening the top and smacking the turn table into a fast spin.

It’s also part of one of my most vivid early childhood memories When I was, hmm, probably 7 or 8 years old, I was sitting on this stereo in our family room with my big sisters were watching TV. I was partly watching TV and partly just being bored, and I had my feet resting on the top of a Little Tykes Ollie riding toy, rolling it forward and backward with my legs. This was a bad idea because it was likely extremely annoying, but it was an even worse idea because at some point I put too much of my bodyweight into my legs and Ollie sailed forward, pulling me with him off of the cabinet, and I smacked the back of my head on one of those stereo dials. You know how in books when a character says that they heard screaming and then realized that they were the one screaming? That happened to me!

I was immediately bleeding profusely and surrounded by older sisters, who got help from a next door neighbor, who drove me to our church, where my parents were at a church meeting. They left the meeting to take me to the emergency room, and the younger priest at our parish came along, volunteering that providing our family with support would be more interesting than the meeting. We spent an extremely long time waiting at one hospital, then changed tacks and headed to a Catholic hospital, where having someone in our party wearing a clerical collar served as an effective skip-the-line tactic, even though he was an Episcopalian. The doctor told me that that it would hurt a bit (it hurt a lot), and I got several stitches, and I still have a bumpy little scar on the back of my head. Also, I think that the incident left our couch with such horrifying blood stains that we had to buy a new couch, but I could be wrong about that one.

Ah, good times!

See how fun old photos are? Stay tuned for Throwback Photos – Part 2: Katie as Thespian and Style Icon.

One Comment

  1. Nana in Savannah

    I had to laugh all the way through this one. But, the trip to the hospital was not fun, even with our own priest in tow. Your father and I were both quite queasy when it came to stitches time!
    I remember giving your brother a photo of you in that little yellow sundress as you fed the seagulls on the beach. There were hundreds of them in the air and on the ground. We were hoping he would use his artistic talent to paint a portrait, but alas it never happened—he was way too busy with college projects at the time.
    Thanks for the memories! xoxo

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