Kodak Moment

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My son, Brian, just turned 28 on July 14.  He is a part of the last generation of people (in America, I suspect) who had their childhood photos of them taken with film.  I have boxes stacked in my closet of envelopes containing hundreds if not thousands of pictures of him, my daughter, my family, my wife, her family, our friends…our childhood playmates…the list goes on.

The date on the back of this photo is July, 2001.  Brian is standing on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.  I have another picture of him standing in lower Manhattan with the WTC behind him.  Two months later…

I have beside me on the table where I now write, a heavy book with the title: “A New History of Photography“.  On page 24 is a negative of an image of a ‘latticed window’, taken by William Henry Fox Talbot.  It is a negative.  The date of this image is 1835.  It is probably one of the earliest “photos” ever taken.  It pre-dates Daguerre by a few years.

Photographs.

No longer will I carefully tuck the little tag with the serial number of my film in my pocket while the person at my local pharmacy tells me “it will be ready next week”.

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No longer will I carry the packet home and review the images I just paid $7.50 to have developed.  No longer will I look at the strip of negatives and take one back to the drug store and say: “I want duplicates of #17a and #17b”.

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I will not be licking little “corner” adhesive mounts for a scrapbook.  It’s all done in the computer now.  I can use  Photoshop 9 to alter reality.  (Even with this technology, I’ll never make myself look like George Clooney.)

I have to say that I will miss gently touching an old photograph.  Discovering a box of images I’ve never seen before.  Open my wallet, as a teenager, and gazing at the small school photo of my girlfriend, standing in an antique store and looking into the eyes of a stranger, a natty gentleman in a bowler, a pretty woman in lace, an old man with a white beard and straw hat, an aunt with a basket of unshucked peas in her lap.

My wife has a photo of her grandmother in her coffin.  It was taken in Aleppo, Syria circa 1920.  This was a common practice in pioneer America and Europe.  It was a way of keeping a final image after a life lived.  Instead of a slowly fading memory, there, in an old dusty book, was the final picture of a loved one before they were buried.

Now, our memories…well, we don’t need memories anymore.  Everything, an entire life can be stored on a memory stick…available with a touch to a keypad.

I’ve seen Internet projects where a woman photos her face from exactly the same angle every day for a year or more.  It makes for fascinating viewing, but in life, I don’t want to see the gradual changes that are meant not to be seen in 30 seconds, but in 365 days.

When you turn to look at someone you love, or have loved, or will love…what you see should change in real-time.  Not in slo-mo or fast forward.

That’s not how life works.

Your Kodak moment should be a moment, frozen, as you are, for all the future generations yet to be born.

Recently, in a restaurant on Broadway in New York City, I went down a few stairs to the men’s room.  In the hallway, at the bottom of the steps was an “old-time” photo booth.  These were often found at county fairs, Coney Island and Amusement Parks…everywhere.  They used to cost about 25 cents.  Here was one that gave you a set of four poses for $3.00.  I didn’t mind the money.  But these were in black and white…like the old days.  Nothing digital about these!

I couldn’t resist.

I just need to use Photoshop 9 to retouch my hair…and I’m a teenager again.  My wife doesn’t need any alterations to look pretty.

Yes, we’re teenagers again, kinda.

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Not Just Another Skyscraper

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The Empire State Building has been linked to me, in one way or another, since before I was born. That may sound a bit confusing…but stay with me.

I am an American male, raised to hide emotional reactions.  But, I can say that the building has made me cry on more than one occasion.  When I was young, one of my favorite movies was King Kong.  I could quote lines…once upon a time…yes, I could.  Now I can merely paraphrase.  But as a boy, somehow I “got” the idea of why Kong did what he did to the people of this wonderful town.  He was frightened and he was in love with Faye Wray so he took her to the only place where he could save himself and, he thought, her.

It didn’t work. He died. She lived. And the hero at the end said something like: “It was beauty that killed the beast.”

So, I cried.

I cried again when Deborah Kerr was hit by a taxi on her way to meet Cary Grant in An Affair To Remember.  When he finally found out that she was paralyzed because of him, he cried.  “I didn’t see the taxi,” she said. “I was looking up at you.”

And, yes, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wept when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally met (thanks to his little boy) on the observation deck in Sleepless in Seattle.  It didn’t help me when Jimmy Durante sang “As Time Goes By” at the end.  And, the lights of the building became a giant red heart.

[Tonight, the building is bathed in blue in honor of the Alzheimer’s Foundation.]

I kissed more than one girl on the observation deck.  I got a parking ticket once when I left my MG on 34th Street…beneath a NO PARKING sign.  I once had to pick something up for my wife in an office of the building, so I wandered the hallways, not as a tourist!

The legends and lore of the Empire State Building are many.  Amazingly, it was built in only 10 months!  It was opened to the public on May 1, 1931. (May 1 is my wedding anniversary.)

Sixteen years and one month later, I was born.

According to Wikipedia, there were 30 attempted suicides by jumping.  It seems only four were successful.  The first occurred before it was even opened.  A worker was laid off.  He jumped to his death.  One jumper clearly was not on the “List.”  She jumped off the 86th floor deck but the wind blew her back to a ledge on the 85th floor where police brought her inside.

A slightly gentler breeze could have ruined her whole day.

On a foggy day, July 28, 1945, a B-25, flying in zero visibility flew into the side of the building between the 79th and 80th floor.  Fourteen deaths resulted.  Parts of the plane severed the elevator cable and the operator survived a 75 floor free-fall.  Look it up.  She’s in the Guinness Book of World Records.

On a clear day, in late 1930 or early 1931, a young man was walking along the streets of the west Village.  The man worked for Bell Labs on Bethune Street.  He looked up and saw the workers putting the finishing touches on the Empire State Building.

The man had come from a rather poor family who lived in northeastern Pennsylvania.  He had dropped out of school and left home to find work in the Big City.  The man lived in Bergen, NJ with a relative.  His wages were low but he sent what he could back home to help out.  After a year or two, the man returned to complete high school, court a young woman named Mary…and eventually married her in 1936.

I know this story pretty well.  The man was my father, Paul.

He told me all this when I was a little boy watching King Kong.

“No,” he told me more than once.  “I never saw a large ape climbing the building.”

As a little boy, I never could quite believe him about this.  How could he not have seen the ape falling?  How could he have missed it when beauty killed the beast?

The beast?  Well, I guess that’s where I played out my small role in my father’s contact with this great building.  Sixteen years and one month after he walked down Bethune Street, I was born.

Add two years to that…I would be entering the “Terrible Twos.”  So, my father gets the beast after all.

And, about 70 years later, I’m standing on 7th Avenue looking up at a very special building…washed in blue light…honoring those who have lost their memories.

That’s something I’ve haven’t done…lose memories.