Friday, January 09, 2009

Smile for the Camera

The boy and I were having our usual pre-bedtime chat on Monday when we heard a familiar voice sound out from the TV in the other room.
Like the big wain that I am I bolted out of my seat (definitely not easy given my current condition) and rushed like a buck eejit to the living room where on the screen I saw my daddy chatting nine to the dozen about my grandad’s old home movies.
It was part of the ‘Super Eight’ series made for the BBC a few years ago, and while we had seen it before it was lovely to see it again. There was my father, and my uncle, recalling a childhood of innocence and happiness - and at the same time recalling some of Derry’s darkest days - all to the backdrop of my grandfather’s first hand movie footage of it all.
My grandad died when I was 16 - I’m now just reaching the stage of my life where he has been out of my life longer than he was in it. But yet my memories of him are as strong now as they ever were - and most of that I imagine is down to the legacy of home movies and photographs he left us.
Of course it was long before the days of camcorders and digital photography. Grandad had an old cinefilm camera which would film just a few minutes of silent footage at a time on film reels which would then be played back to us through a projector onto the living room wall or an old bed sheet.
On occasion my daddy would borrow the camera for big family days out so we created our very own archive of classic family movies. (We were very overdramatic and there are several hilarious reels of us acting like eejits in various locations around the city - from Brooke Park to the City Walls).
Everything was filmed - from Christmas mornings to First Communions and family weddings. My father - just like his daddy before him - has also kept a keen record of the changing face of Derry. He has more photographs of Gwynn’s Institute and St. Eugene’s Cathedral than is strictly necessary and I’ve sometimes wondered at the logic of photographs of ramshackle buildings he has taken - but when I think back to just how much this city has transformed over the years I can see how important it is. Perhaps I’m just getting old and sentimental about such things.
Last summer my father spent his holidays scanning in all our old photographs into his computer before giving us a disc with our own copies. There were more than 3000 images - ranging from his own childhood, through to ours and on to his own grandchildren. Yes, there were plenty of seriously dodgy haircuts (80s perm-tastic on my behalf) and even dodgier clothes. There were shots of all sorts of weird and wonderful things from school shows to my then newborn son being cuddled by his doting granny. Of course there were people who are no longer with us - like my grandad - frozen in time with a smile that is unforgettable even without the aid of a photograph. And there are events and celebrations that you only think you’ve forgotten until you see that image of yourself dancing to YMCA with a pair of fairy wings on. Then again, there are some things perhaps which are better forgotten.
At a time when it seems like everyone has a camcorder, or a digital camera that can take short movies or even a fancy dan mobile phone with the same facilities - I think it can be hard to appreciate just how important these old family archives are.
I know I take for granted the fact that I can capture a snap on my mobile, upload to my computer and email it around the world in the space of five minutes.
I’ve even become kind of blase about such things - taking the recording of my son’s life so far a little bit for granted. I’m not at all disciplined when it comes to actually getting photos printed out or arranging for video footage to be transferred from the camera to a DVD or similar.
But when I think about it I’m only depriving my son, and his children in days to come, of the rich heritage I have. Joseph was most impressed to see his “very own grandad” on the telly on Monday night and even more impressed to see his ‘Granda Ernie’ (my own grandfather) and be told how he named after his Granda Ernie’s middle name. He asked, in sincerity, did that make him famous?
So while I might cringe at the fashion faux pas of my youth (knowing full well I’m still making a health dose of them now) and yes it can be painful to watch how my waistline has expanded over the years (and shrunk a bit, and grown a bit, and shrunk a bit etc..) but I’m still glad - and eternally grateful to my daddy and grandad - that they have created this most valuable resource for us all. And to this end, I promise, to finally get some of those photographs currently eating up the memory on my home computer printed out.


Anonymous said...

I loved this! My Dad took a lot of cinefilm of us when we were little. Silent movies, shown on the wall were just the best fun time. We used to make him rewind it at the end so that we could watch everyone walking backwards. I am so grateful that he did this, as we didn't have video cameras growing up (of course) and this is wonderful to show my children too :o)

bfs ~ "Mimi" said...

We have the old b/w silent movies, too. And movies from relative's cameras. It's so neat to see those we've loved so much.

I hope you are feeling well and taking care of yourself.

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