I was on the front porch when you drove by and I waved, back from a tour of western America, with snapshots all downloaded, printed and stored in a shoebox.
My wife and I were eating at the Alex Johnson Hotel in Rapid City when a new tour friend from Jersey said “Smile!” so I looked up, which made my jaw drop, and that’s how she got a picture of me showing a mouthful of masticated beef steak. She took another picture but I looked like I’d been hit from behind with a mallet.
My ancestors hated cameras and I have the black and white pictures to prove it.
My grandmother stands beside her white wooden farm house and behind her hangs a large iron dinner bell on a weathered post. She wears her best Sunday cotton dress, arms hanging down by her sides, big black shoes, and her hair done up in a tight bun. She stares into the camera with the grim demeanor of a judge at a public hanging. But in reality, she was sweet, laughed a lot, and was very good to me. Pictures can shape the message.
In my day you were photographed first as an infant in your Sunday clothes, again as a child seated on a pony in cowboy garb, and again at your wedding, biting into a piece of cake held by your bride. Then Kodak gave ordinary people the opportunity to celebrate daily life and Polaroid allowed you to instantly hang memories (using Scotch tape) on your refrigerator. Now we have cell phones with cameras — instant gratification. Snap. Enjoy.
Understand the camera now has become the means for making celebrities — not hard work and talent. The music business is in shreds — there will never be another Elvis, Sinatra or George Jones — voices known by young and old. Literature has become so devalued that books, writers and poets mean very little to society. The only true celebrities these days are digitally enhanced. The camera lifts you out of the deep miry clay and places your feet in fields of special treatment, free food and public adoration.
The downside of stardom is that every now and then a celebrity becomes Bombay Gin-dependent and is delivered to the Betty Ford Center to be unfolded and ironed out. Later, they leave with clear eyes and start doing infomercials for vitamins and reverse mortgages.
But the camera can be brazenly truthful. A political candidate takes nude pictures of herself with a staff member and it goes viral. A group of youth throw water on police officers in disrespect and proudly replay it on the internet. The camera hints of a dark future if we don’t change our ways.
With so much stark truth around, I occasionally take off my glasses and forego contacts, my eyesight is terrible, and the world becomes a Monet painting.
Hard lines become soft and fuzzy and flower beds transform into small pools of watery reds, yellows and blues. For a while, the world is beautiful. My neighbor’s garbage bin could be a cozy chalet for all I know.
Then my Rockwell-oriented wife says, “Put on your glasses before you meet people. You’ll look intellectual instead of electrically shocked.”
So, I do and it’s goodbye soft lines and chalets. So long pools of bright shimmering colors. Hello reality and Mexico. Good morning pictures of burned cars containing children and their mother, all shot to death by drug cartels.
Cameras and cell phones are everywhere now. One should be careful what they do these days, especially to children. God has a shoebox full of pictures too.