Blast from the past: Old photographs

Taking photos on our phones is fun, but getting a film reel developed and holding a real photograph in your hands is pure, unfiltered joy writes HELEN MCGURK

A treasured photograph of Helen's great-grandfather, Private John James Barber, who was killed during World War I
A treasured photograph of Helen's great-grandfather, Private John James Barber, who was killed during World War I

I treasure this grainy old photograph.

It is of my great-grandfather John James Barber, who was born in 1883. John enlisted in the army in Salford, England and was serving with the 7th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers when he was killed in action at the Dardanelles on June 13, 1915. He was only 32-years-old and left behind a wife, Rose Anne, and two children.

This relic of times past, is a piece of treasured family history. Many of us have old photos like this of our ancestors.

It is often said photographs are the one possession most people would want to retrieve from the flames, being both irreplaceable and portable, but will future generations still feel this way?

Untrammelled snapping on our phones, pouting, preening, filtering and deleting until we get the right image, has been liberating. But, I believe we’ve lost something magical along the way.

When many of us were children in the 60s, 70s, 80s, even 90s, getting your photograph taken, whether at a family wedding, school sports day, a visit to Santa, was a big deal - literally a Kodak moment.

Getting photos developed meant taking the film along to the chemist (wondering if the staff would sneak a peek) and waiting a few days. Then collection day would arrive. Barely out the chemist’s door, you would open the brightly coloured envelope and it felt like you were opening a present. Smiling like an idiot on the street, you’d hungrily leaf through the 24 or 36 shiny prints. Many were obscured by an image of a large thumb, many were blurry, many were downright embarrassing, but it didn’t matter. There would be enough captured golden moments to obliterate the duds,

The ritual of getting film developed all sounds so cumbersome now, so ridiculously slow, but that made the photographs more precious. We put them in albums or frames. We treasured them. But today photographs are ephemeral; we literally have thousands of them on our phones, which could be deleted in a breath.

When I look at old photos I feel sentimental. They take you back to a specific moment that disappeared even as the shuttered clicked. It’s sentimental, I know, but a photograph of someone isn’t just an image of how the look, it’s a portrait of who they are.

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