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Around the Kitchen Table

By Maureen Weber


Don Ward
“We turn to stories and pictures and music because they show us who and what and why we are.”

— Madeleine L’Engle
The sun was streaming into the family room on one of the first really nice pre-spring days, so I opened the window to let in some fresh air that still smelled of snow. My cat Perdy immediately leaped up onto the window ledge and inhaled with gusto. I ran to get my iPad hoping to catch her moment of bliss before it turned to boredom, and took a series of photos, one of which I posted on Instagram. An open-window day. Only prairie-dwellers in March understand what that means.

Instagram — “instant camera” and “telegram” — a photo-sharing social media site that enables users to share photos and 15-second videos.

I’ve always loved photography. When we were dating some 37 years ago, Russ was a hobby photographer. He had a Pentax 35 mm camera (something that seemed quite exotic to my Kodak instamatic sensibilities), darkroom equipment including an enlarger, and access to a darkroom.

Once in awhile we had a darkroom date (more than once in awhile) and I remember the anticipation of winding the film onto a reel in pitch blackness, going through the developing process and later on looking through negatives to choose which images to print. My favourite part was making prints — waiting for an image to gradually appear in a tray of developer, wondering if anything would turn out, or if the entire film would be a wasted effort. The uncertainty was tantalizing and also frustrating. The yield was small.

In the old days of photography one had to be patient even if you weren’t developing your own pictures. A film might have 24 images on it and it could take weeks to use up the last few. Then the film had to be packed into an envelope and either mailed or dropped off at the drug store where it would be sent away for processing. It was a long wait to discover the pictures you took of your newborn were blurry, and by the time you had a chance for retakes, the kid had grown another inch.

Now we not only have digital cameras, there are smartphones that take mega photos — files so large they can hardly be emailed. My laptop is bogged down with thousands of picture files. It’s a digital reflection of my closets downstairs, crammed with shoeboxes overflowing with hundreds of envelopes of photos. The difference is it took 30 years to build up that collection. With digital images, it takes only months.

As someone who enjoys taking pictures, I love Instagram, and there are endless ways to use it. Some follow a business, store or designer to get clothing, decorating or cooking ideas. Some off-the-wall postings display a brilliant sense of humour. Kids seem to post a lot of pictures of their favourite book or movie characters. And numerous selfies — their burgeoning self-awareness is a stark contrast to when I was their age — I did everything I could to avoid putting myself in front of a camera.

I heard someone comment recently that her Instagram feed was boring — nobody was posting anything interesting. But are the ordinary lives of others supposed to be compelling and constantly interesting, a source of entertainment for us? Can’t you post something just because, without wondering what someone else thinks? After all, what isn’t interesting to me might just have been the most incredible mashed potatoes of another’s life.

Instagram is a form of self-expression: you can tell a story in a single image, or create visual poetry, and while that concept is as old as photography itself, there’s something about this medium that encourages me to see things I might not necessarily have otherwise noticed, and remember them in a particular way.

I’ve been reminded of the pleasure of sometimes simple images, and despite my husband’s bafflement that people are so willing to expose themselves publicly on social media, I think it’s natural, within reason, for us to wish to share parts of ourselves. It’s why we write, paint, draw, play instruments, tell stories or take pictures. Creative self-expression is as essential as breathing, and Instagram is an opportunity for us artistic commoners.

A few nights ago it was record-breakingly warm for a mid-March evening. The sun reflecting on the sky was an intense swirl of cotton-candy pink and blue. Of course I took a picture and posted it on Instagram. Later, when I looked online, I saw that my future daughter-in-law Sarah had captured the sky from her own perspective. Shared exhilaration as expansive as spring. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones.