Photographic memory

There was a time when shopping for a product we would “Let our fingers do the walking”, as popularized in this famous British Telecom advertisement for Yellow Pages from the 1980s. The process of searching for a product, the visits to different retailers for inspecting the quality of goods before selecting and eventually buying an item; one was invested completely in the entire process from the initial sense of anticipation to eventual fulfilment and satisfaction. It was difficult to shop on the spur of the moment; also, we only bought something if funds were available.

Today, we live in a world of instant gratification. Increasingly, we are addicted to having our demands fulfilled immediately, literally at the tip of our fingers. As we tap the keys of smartphones or other devices, all information respecting what we seek, consume or share is fed back constantly and instantly to the Amazons, Googles, Apples, Instagrams, Pinterests, Facebooks and Ubers of this world. Sophisticated algorithms work feverishly in the background to parse and analyze huge amounts of information being amassed. Resultant data is used to identify our biases and savvy marketers then flash back advertisements for products and services to catch our eye and get us to focus on stuff we may longingly “want” but not really “need”. We are now able to source goods from anywhere around the globe and using the omnipresent credit cards have these delivered to our doorstep within an amazingly short time span.

In much the same way, today we are obsessed by “selfies”. Almost everyone I know is constantly clicking pictures of themselves – showcasing food they are about to eat in a restaurant or at home, getting into or out of a car/shop/house/garden/mall, outdoors or indoors, in company or alone, simply lolling about in bed or parading favorite outfits etc.

But it wasn’t too long ago that photographs were being clicked using box cameras. On one of his first trips abroad in 1955, my father had acquired what was then known as a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) camera; it was an expensive Rolleicord V model. Images of a subject were captured on a roll of photographic film. These were black and white pictures and it was only much later that we could afford the pricier film rolls for color photographs. Photography required patience. Once a film roll was completely “exposed”, we would take it to a photographer’s store. He would delicately remove the roll from the camera in a “dark room” and develop “negatives” by soaking the film in various chemical solutions or “baths” in a precise and time-sensitive process that required patience and considerable skill, to avoid the final pictures being either under or over-exposed. I was gifted my 35 mm Leica camera sometime in the mid-1960s but it was the arrival of the “instant” Polaroid camera that caused a lot of excitement. We no longer had to visit a photographer to have the film developed. The polaroid camera was simply pointed towards the subject and clicked. A hazy “snap” would start to emerge from the bottom edge of the camera. This would be gingerly pulled out and kept aside to automatically “develop” and within a few minutes the picture would be ready! Kodak was a dominant producer of cameras and photographic films and came up with their brilliant marketing expression “Kodak Moment” for galvanizing consumers to capture and commemorate sentimental or cute moments for all time. I guess this was the precursor to today’s selfie!

Personally, instead of being distracted by getting out a camera to snap a picture my preference is to “live in the moment” letting my eyes capture the image, with the mind serving as the repository to retain it. On the other hand, I am grateful for all the pictures that my wife clicks of our grandkids through different stages of their growing up, reflecting on precious, shared moments. Occasionally, out come the decades-old tin boxes which originally contained cookies but now hold fading, sepia-tinted pictures of our parents, grandparents and assorted relatives from years gone by, names forgotten with the passage of time. If only someone had been thoughtful enough to pencil names and dates behind the photographs, it would have brought history to life for our kids and grandchildren.

Our seven years old granddaughter loves to collect various picture albums by her bedside before turning in for the night, when she visits us for a “sleepover”. She is usually up before anyone else surfaces and likes to lie in bed, amusing herself by rifling through old photographs and later seeks our help in identifying her ancestors.

The best picture is but a likeness, unable to capture the very essence of the subject. This is reflected most beautifully by Mohammad Rafi’s rendition of Sahir Ludhianvi’s lyrics:

“Jo baat tujh mein hai, teri tasveer mein nahin …
… rangon mein teraa aks dhalaa, tu na dhal saki
saanson ki aanch, jism ki khushbu naa dhal saki
tujh mein jo loch hai meri tehreer mein nahin …”
[Your picture (does no justice, as it) is unable to radiate your mien
… colors may frame the image, (but) your aura cannot be molded
the warmth of your breath, the fragrance of your body is unable to be radiated
my composition is powerless to describe the grace that you possess …]

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