punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

On old photos...

One of the things I have always found curious is places that show antique photos in a venue where they are not being shown as much by who they are, but just as ambiance. For example, sometimes I go to some place like Bennigan's, TGI Friday's, Ruby Tuesday's, or Lone Star Steakhouse, and see photos of people from the 1800s or so. Then I think about it: "This person, who really existed at one point, has been immortalized through time, past their own death, to have their photo as decor in a themed restaurant."

There's a Ruby Tuesday's in Reston where some haunting posed photo of a girl from the 1800s looks wistfully to the left. I can't help but think she's dead and gone. She's facing a children's airplane, some 1940's, peddle-pushed child's riding toy. She might have been in her 60s when that toy was created. How much the world has changed for her.

Think about it. How would you feel if that stupid snapshot of you with your high school friend by the pool appeared in some snack shop in the year 2109? The photo was lost or sold as part of an estate sale. "Who's that?" asked some distant future relative? "No idea," says your great-great grandson's ex-wife, "put it in the bin marked 'Grab bag - assorted items - 20 Euros." A few years later, some designer puts it up as part of a "20th Century collage," where your photo is tacked up with other assorted anonymous photos in a shadow box depicting ancient 20th century life where decades like "the 70s" and "the 80s" are no longer important, just "fun summer photos." Your photo is between a snapshot of a 1959 beauty contest and a stock photo from 2003 depicting someone drinking a margarita and reading e-mail from his laptop at the beach. You are sitting with your friend in a chaise lounge, with a bright blue pool in the background, a stripe of zinc across both your noses. Your friend sits on a towel with some bubble and fish print, while both of you make a peace sign with your hands because you couldn't think of anything else to pose at the moment the picture was snapped. If you saw the picture, you may remember your friend and the smell of the chlorine, and the way the sun-heated concrete feels on your wrinkled bare feet. Just to the left is a snack stand where cracked paint covered simple cement bricks and a guy in a bucket hat sells you ice cream already half-melted and covered with droplets of condensing water. In 2109, someone is looking at the aged photo, and think about a time when people would stay outside in the sun on purpose, content a stripe of zinc would be enough to save them from skin cancer; before the ozone layer became so wafer-thin, that spending just an hour in the sun was a painful and blistering experience without some kind of UV-reflective poncho and goggles. They don't know the smell of chlorine since someone engineered a people friendly, anti-bacterial virus that sits in swimming pools now, and water often has a slight lavender and vanilla scent to be "soothing." They don't know of times when people went into pools to cool off, they now go to hot pools sit and relax in the calming steam, or swim in competitive meets. The snacks they eat might be similar to yours; ice cream, for example. It's no longer made from fats and sugars, but a kind of suspended colloid you'd call a custard more than ice cream, and has certain government regulated nutrients in it (after "junk food" was banned). You're long dead, your friend is long dead, and your photo stares out the window of some underground city where artificial light feeds genetically engineered plants that cleanse the air...

... making peace signs to a world as foreign to you as that girl from the 1800s would think about 2006.
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