Media Artifact: What a Picture is Really Worth

In November, 1945, amid the traditional upstate NY snow, my grandparents were married. During a 17- day delay en route, my grandfather, a member of the Airforce, decided that there was no time like then to tie the knot. The wedding was small and actually took place at my grandmother’s house, with a minister and a few friends and family members. At the reception, a sweet surprise awaited my grandparents-a wedding cake. Given the sugar shortage during the war, they hadn’t expected one, but their friends and relatives scrounged up enough to make a large cake. My grandfather cashed his most recent check the same day of the marriage so that the two of them could go on a honeymoon, which lasted two days and was cut short because of the snow. These memories are all that my grandfather, currently living on his own with a few pets for company, has from that day; these memories, and two 8×10 photographs which he gave to me before my wedding 3 months ago.


While these media artifacts may not hold much significance for anyone outside of my family, they are extremely significant to me. My grandmother passed away seven years ago, which only emphasizes the importance these photographs have to my grandfather. It is the importance they have for him that makes them so important to me, that and what they tell me about the people my grandparents were back then. I remember the first time I saw one of the pictures, blown up to poster size and displayed at their 50th wedding anniversary party. This was the first time I had even seen it. I was fascinated by the people my grandparents were, by my grandfather in his Air Force uniform, by my grandmother with her auburn colored hair (it had always been ash-blonde to me). I couldn’t get over the way the color in the photograph was so different from the way it is today, from the way it looked as though someone had taken a fine paintbrush and drawn in my grandmother’s long eyelashes or colored by grandfather’s eyes a sky-blue, after the picture was taken. To me, the picture acted as a time capsule, as a glimpse at what life was like when they were married.  The picture not only showed me how much they had changed, but how much technology has changed.

Today, people are so used to the instant gratification the digital camera provides; they have become accustomed to the ability to see a picture before it’s even printed out onto paper. They are able to easily retake pictures if they aren’t satisfied and can effortlessly adjust positioning and facial expressions to get the result they’re looking for. In 1946, people did not have that luxury. The two pictures of my grandparents make me think about how they only had one pose and two pictures came out of that-one which is a close up, and one which is slightly farther away. In that era, time and resources were invaluable; a photographer could not spend all day snapping away at them like the paparazzi (my grandparents couldn’t have afforded it anyhow). There was no instant gratification for my grandparents; they had no idea what the pictures would look like until they picked them up. The importance of time and resources, as well as the limited financial means my grandparents had, can be seen in these pictures. Unlike weddings today where thousands of pictures are taken and videos are made, then, there were other things of greater importance. While some may argue that the sparseness of physical memories my grandparents have reflects an insignificance of the event, I believe it’s quite the opposite. For them, their wedding wasn’t about flashbulbs, bands, and a dress; it was about the two of them. They didn’t need an album filled with hundreds of pictures, they only needed each other to be reminded of how important that day in November was. With only two pictures to visually remember this day, I was in awe when my grandfather told me I could have them.

My grandfather has three sons and twelve grandchildren; he could have easily given the pictures to any of them, but he didn’t. Since my grandfather is slightly wary of technology, my mom offered to make copies of the pictures for him to provide me with, ensuring that the photographs would be very carefully handled; my grandfather didn’t take her up on her offer. He could have given me one picture and not both or kept the frame they were in which my grandmother gave to him, but he didn’t. It’s not only what my grandfather did that makes these media artifacts so important to me personally, but what he chose to not do.  It was his decision to give the pictures to me, to not give me copies, but the originals, to not take them out of the frame, but keep them exactly as they have been since 1946, that gives them so much significance.

For me, these pictures are not only a physical representation of the stories my grandfather has told me, they tell a story all their own. In looking at them I am able to see a piece of my own personal history. I am able to have a better understanding of where I come from, of what my grandparents looked like when they were younger than I am now. I am able to see the fashions of that time, the types of jewelry, hairstyles, and make-up that were popular for women, and the style of an Air Force uniform from WWII. I am able to see the ID bracelet my grandfather wore, the watch that delicately rested on my grandmother’s wrist, and the necklace which sat against her neck. These media artifacts are not just representative of how far we have come in the world of print media, they are representative of how far my family has come since then. They tell a story that will continue for as long as these photographs exist.


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