Every time I pass a Walgreens or CVS, I remember how I used to pace down the candy aisle while my dad chose photos to print out of all our family pictures saved on a chunky, silver 2010 digital camera.
It was a monthly occurrence because of the hundreds of photos that would pile up on his SD card. My dad always carried the camera with him, only letting go of it when he’d set it on the nightstand to sleep. In addition to birthdays, weddings and all the other holidays scattered throughout the year, he would pull out the camera without reason on any given day — whether to snap a picture of my sister and me on a random Tuesday before leaving for school or to take a picture of my mom eating at the dinner table. My fondest memory is of a photoshoot of my siblings and me in our unkempt living room, getting ready to run an errand at Costco. I was the most enthusiastic, cheesing in all the pictures and asking to hold my then three-month-old brother as if he were a prop, while my sister groaned to get out of the house sooner. We were not dressed up whatsoever, but I love those photos because they capture the personalities of my siblings and me. On weekends when my mom was working, my dad would take us to the supermarket during her shift to get pictures with her. He found art in what anyone else would call an ordinary moment, so you can only imagine how crazy my dad went about taking pictures during a vacation. All these photos still live on numerous SD cards, but he was very selective of which ones made it to the glossy black albums. The printed photos needed to be both crisp and flattering, and he wanted to see big, toothy smiles. But occasionally, he liked to print out the candids and raw moments of our lives. So accompanying birthday pictures in which my sister and I awkwardly stare at the camera while feeding each other cake, there’s also the picture of us arguing over how much cake she’d gobbed onto the spoon. My dad wanted the albums to be real windows into our lives, not just the picturesque moments. The end product of his artistry was a dozen or so photo albums filled with snapshots across the years. It became my favorite pastime to flip through the albums on rainy summer days and talk through the memory behind each photo with my little brother. He is eight years younger than me and knows nothing of the blaring camera flash and my dad directing us to smile.
The camera is now tucked away at the bottom of the nightstand drawer where it has remained since 2012. There haven’t been any more trips to Walgreens or CVS either. After all, it is more efficient and cost-effective to leave everything up to the Cloud.
Printing photos is a lost art — one that I had adored. The beauty of holding a physical photo is unmatched. I know I am not going to pull up my Instagram account when I eventually show my future kids old photos. So over the quiet Fall Break amid feelings of homesickness, I sifted through my camera roll with my own criteria.
Unlike my dad, I printed the photos that brought up lengthy, funny stories without needing the marker of a perfect smile — ones that simply emanate pure bliss and happiness. Our eyes speak before our mouth does: It was an art lesson I didn’t take too seriously besides noting that I had to sketch eyes before anything else in a portrait. Yet, the saying stuck as I flipped back and forth through photos trying to find the best ones to print.
I chose pictures of my friends and me posing against a glimmering New York City skyline on the 40th floor of my friend’s building. Other pictures were shaky from my friend laughing too hard behind the camera at our sleepovers and snapshots of my friends and me smiling at one another, deep in our conversations and often unaware of the camera’s presence. I picked photos that my sister would never allow me to post anywhere but are easily some of our funniest moments. I printed photos of my friend curled up, sleeping, during our two-day drive down to Florida this July. My favorite picture — and one that my dad would probably dislike the most — is one of me in a mask. All you can see are my eyes, but that’s all you need to see to know how insanely happy I was in that moment.
I didn’t even wait 30 seconds before tearing open the Walgreens envelope of photos in the middle of Halloween candy specials and various shaving gels. My dad always gave me the honor of opening the pictures on the car ride home, but I had long forgotten what that childhood excitement felt like until now. From the smell of freshly printed photos (almost woodlike) to the saturated vibrance of each color, I welcomed this love for printed photos once again. Every picture was already special to me, but now they seemed alive as I felt the warm, satiny paper against my cold fingers.
On the walk home, I questioned why my dad ever stopped printing photos. For just about $10, the feeling was beyond magical. Such special moments were now eternalized onto a glossy four-by-six card. No massive digital folder of JPEGs could replace that. But now, instead of wondering why we ever stopped, I’m glad to adopt his dedication to both capturing the beautiful moments and making many trips to Walgreens. I already put in another order to print copies of my favorite photos, adding envelopes and post stamps to my cart as well. On the back of each photo, I wrote a little inscription of the dates and places that they were taken, inside jokes and a signature. I am sending them to friends as a tangible piece of our summer, hoping the physical photo brings them some warmth as the months get colder. Even though we are miles apart in different states and cities right now, these photos remind me of a movie scene. We would not have known it then, but every detail seemed to be placed perfectly from the glint of light in our eyes to the loose flyaways in our hair. The pictures show us naively enjoying each other’s presence without knowing the next time we’ll be together, young and free like this. And we remain like that, inked on paper.
This temporary cure for homesickness resurfaced an old love because now I stop in the middle of the Diag to capture the fall foliage even when I am late for class, slow down to snap a picture of friends walking ahead of me on a cold October night and take loads of close-up selfies with only our eyes in the frame. I capture a shot of my brother being hand-fed by mom, realizing I have become the classic, South-Asian wedding photographer who takes shots of guests eating, way too close, even mid-bite. And the next shot consists of his hand stretched out, seconds before smacking the camera. Maybe snapping all these pictures is annoying on the other side of the camera, but I can’t help thinking about printing these so we can smile at the memories later. I imagine that’s what my dad’s thought process was too.
MiC Columnist Zafirah Rahman can be reached at email@example.com.