Point Of View; Prints Are Precious; Or, In Praise Of The Shoebox

In the entry hall of our house, there is a picture of two young sisters. When the picture was taken, Marion was 14 years old and Helen was 7. That was in the mid-1920s. Marion was my mother; Helen, my aunt. Both are dead now.

The oldest picture in my family album is probably the portrait of Franklin Corbin. He died in Andersonville prison during the Civil War.

Going through the picture box. Real, original prints are a direct link with the past in a way that an electronic image can never be.
© 2009, Roger Hicks Ltd., All Rights Reserved

On my husband’s side of the family, there’s a picture from the ’40s: a line of motorcycles, with their riders. The one on the extreme left is Roger’s father, Bill Hicks, on his Rudge 650, registration plate CGK 935. He sold it to buy an engagement ring for the girl who would become Roger’s mother. There’s a picture of her on it, too, before he sold it, before he bought the ring. She must have been about 19. They were married in ’48 and she died a few months after their silver wedding. I still wear that ring every day. It has been rebuilt twice. First, his mother wore through the shank. Then I did. Roger and I have been married 28 years.

My mother Marion (14) and Auntie Helen (7). The girls’ hair had been cut just before the picture was taken, and Helen was terrified: she had never had her hair cut before, and was convinced it would hurt, so she ran and hid behind a chair. That’s the kind of story that sticks to a real picture…
© 2009, Roger Hicks Ltd., All Rights Reserved

For that matter, there’s a picture of me in Roger’s study. In it, I’m quite a bit younger than I am today. I gave it to him a couple of weeks after we met in Los Angeles, before he had to go back to England. That was in May ’81. In August ’81, I went to England, and he asked me to marry him. In our bedroom there’s a picture of us that evening, a few minutes after I’d said yes: the only time, he says, that he ever really found a delayed-action camera release essential.

Old pictures are important—and the only thing that stands between new pictures and old pictures is time. Keep a new picture long enough, and it becomes an old picture. Never mind a life measured in teaspoons. For the last 120 years or more, our lives have been measured in photographs.

Franklin Corbin. On the back of the mount it says, “A.M. BURROUGH, Photographic Gallery, 453 Broadway, N.Y.”
© 2009, Roger Hicks Ltd., All Rights Reserved

To be sure, photographs are far more common than they used to be. When Franklin Corbin was photographed, resplendent in what looks like his new Yankee uniform jacket, having your likeness taken was an important occasion. In fact, for him, it was probably—absolutely literally—a once in a lifetime event.

The trouble is, you can’t tell which photographs are going to be important. Not at the time that they are taken. Oh, sure, you can tell that some are probably not going to be important—yet another party shot with someone holding his fingers in a V behind someone else’s head, yet another poolside shot on vacation—but even then, you can’t be certain. That little girl leaning against a wall in the backyard, 9 or 10 years old. That’s Holly. She’s just had a son of her own, 16 or 17 years later. When JJ (honestly!) is 10, that’s going to be a funny picture of his mother. When he’s 50, and she’s in her 70s, it’s going to be very precious indeed.

Four motorcycles. Roger’s father is on the Rudge on the extreme right of the line (camera left), with his hat at a somewhat rakish angle: he must have been 19 or 20.
© 2009, Roger Hicks Ltd., All Rights Reserved

Roger’s mother Beryl on the Rudge, probably in about 1947.
© 2009, Roger Hicks Ltd., All Rights Reserved