Photographic Advice to the Young

A Tangle of Bikes - A rusty memory from a bygone era (the early 1970s).

We are living in very exciting times, and times are even more exciting when you’re young. There’s always something going on and, being in school, the only way you’ll ever be in contact with as many people when you’re older is to become an incredible superstar, like Keanu Reeves.

It’s not as though nothing ever happens to adults — daily planners were invented to organize the zillion adult things that need to get done everyday, like getting the cheque to the electric company before they cut off your power, going to work at the smelter, having your cholesterol prescription filled, coughing up blood, and perfecting your golf swing. Adults have plenty to do, it’s just that so little of their daily routine is fun enough to want to think about, much less remember or record photographically.

The time my friend Fat Tommy and I were barred from a Chinese buffet for overconsumption!

Being a kid is great, and by kid I’m talking about the ages up to and including twenty-five, unless you’re the type that strives to prepare for your future by actually studying in high school and college. For you driven, studious, and/or ambitious types, life has probably already passed you by so run out and buy a smart phone (or an old-school agenda) and plan the rest of your life away.

The rest of you in the iGeneration are taking advantage of your newly found freedom to roam the streets at night and keep that third shift busy at breweries for miles around. You probably tend to gravitate toward some rather extreme people, places, and events. I know I did at that age. There are memorable things happening all the time, even if you only know about the things you did the night before because you occasionally intercept rumours on Facebook.

Back in the day when Uncle HoaiPhai had hair on his head (and none on his back) and was considered young by any empirical standard, cameras were really bulky and their images were recorded on film. If you were dedicated enough to preserving memorable moments to carry your camera with you all the time, you simply didn’t have the stamina to do anything else because a decent camera weighed as much as a lead-filled brick. And just try looking suave in a polyester leisure suit while “getting down” at the Roller Disco Groovetorium with a Japanese brick around your neck. Few ever managed to pull it off but, on the plus side, very few photos exist of this era so it all worked out for the better!

Assuming you had the upper body strength to claim photography as a hobby, once you finished a roll of film you had to take it to someone to develop and print your pictures. You’d finally get to see the images, if they turned out, at the end of the week. This was kind of like Christmas because you never really knew what to expect. It was also expensive… every film developed cost you money, whether any of your pictures turned out or not, and each photo that was worth printing cost more money to do so. I forgot to mention that you had to pay for the blank film in the first place and each roll of film only held between 12 and 36 pictures. Your picture-taking was severely limited by your budget, even if you already had a camera. On the bright side, the little containers the film came in were perfect for keeping your pot safe and dry.

Don and Phyllis, the owners/operators of the Do Drop In Restaurant (where we hung out when we were supposed to be in school), kicking out our vice-principal who was there to collect all of us who were cutting class!

Then digital cameras were born, bringing  a cheap method of capturing good times to the masses. In the past ten years or so, digital cameras have not only been getting better and better but are being put into all kinds of devices like MP3 players and cellphones. Maybe Apple will come out with iGlasses, prescription or plain sunglasses with a good-enough camera built-in that would be with you everywhere you go.

Why do we need cameras with us all the time? Because you never know when a great photo-op will rear its photogenic head. Now I’m not talking about those shots of you hugging your BFF with one of you holding your camera-containing cellphone at arm’s length, although I have to admit I’ve seen some of those types of photos that qualify as art. I’m talking about taking pictures of people, events, and places that mean something to you right now, whether you realize it or not, that you think will last forever. I hate to break it to you but they won’t.

So many of Uncle HoaiPhai’s old haunts have disappeared or have been renovated beyond recognition, like the park where dozens of kids would get in on games of Murder Frisbee or The Do Drop In Restaurant he and his friends would infest during his high school years. Or Five Corners, another local eatery, and the JJ Tavern that became popular when we approached drinking age.

In Montreal, taverns were men-only drinking establishments until a law was passed in the ’70s opening them up to women. It would have been great to have had a camera to capture the faces of the patrons when Maggie broke the gender barrier and debased womankind by entering an establishment so socially and esthetically bankrupt that they were required by local custom to warn unwitting folks of the place’s lack of class by displaying a large jar of pickled eggs every 15 feet of its counter’s length.

AP's basement apartment in the McGill Ghetto. Love those parachutes on the ceiling!

Some of the old crowd have gone. Some are witnessing eternity while others I’ve just lost track of but hope they’re OK. People like Wendy and Maxine, who seemed to be joined at the hip. They made me feel like not so much of a worm in my first year of high school when they, second-year girls, actually spoke to me at a school carnival night. And what ever happened to Fat Tommy, who seemed to attract unpredictable events and canine police units? I really wish I had some photos of these people.

So the moral of the story is to take as many pictures as you possibly can of the people you see every day and the places where you spend your time. Take pictures of your room, your friend’s rec room, the pizza place, the mall food court — wherever! Get photos of your first car, for God’s sake! Have someone get a picture of you wearing pants so baggy you could carry a microwave oven in the crotch and still have plenty of room to bend over.

Get organized, add tags to your photos, and don’t forget to include people’s names… you tend to forget them once you haven’t seen the person for a few decades. Back them up on something fairly robust, like good-quality DVDs, and make two copies. Keep one for yourself and keep the other at your mom’s house when you eventually move out.

Oh, and avoid the temptation to buckle to pressure to pose for “nudie shots” that you’ll have to explain to a future spouse or newspaper reporter. People seem to think that your privacy is assured because digital photos can be taken, viewed, and stored all within your own home but this is not the case. Digital photos can be broadcast across the globe in less time than it takes for Uncle HoaiPhai’s hairline to recede one row. All it takes is a drunk or angry ex-boyfriend and a few clicks of the mouse.

Follow my advice — you’ll thank me in thirty years unless I, myself, have become just a memory stored on a DVD somewhere.

P.S. If you know where Fat Tommy is, please tell him to drop me a line.


About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

12 responses to “Photographic Advice to the Young

  • The Good Greatsby

    Don’t let anyone take “nudie shots” of you, ladies. That boyfriend only wants those pictures so he can someday show his friends what his ex-girlfriend looked like naked.

    • HoaiPhai

      Exactly! And for you losers thinking about taking “squeaker photos” of your present girl for future boasting sessions with your buds, just download naked photos from the interwebs and you’ll not only spare the feelings of someone who was stupid enough to care for you for a while, but there will be virtually no chance of her older brother coming around to pummel you. Plus online pictures of professional nude models have been photoshopped so much, you’ll be bragging to your friends about a next-to-perfect former girlfriend!

  • The Hook

    Better living through photography, right?
    GREAT post, my friend!

    • HoaiPhai

      That’s the general idea! I feel there is much work to be done in preparing our youth for the nostalgia they will inevitably experience later in life.

  • japecake

    going to work at the smelter.

    You speak the truth. Just the other day, I was saying to my pal, “Lloyd, I wish we led more photogenic lives. Also, you’re pouring molten iron on my foot.”

    • HoaiPhai

      You’ve encapsulated the very essence of the point of the whole article. 24 megapixel photos of Lloyd’s smelter faux pas wouldn’t make nearly as interesting an entry in the old scrapbook as cellphone snaps of an ecstasy-fuelled teenage luau.

  • Redneckprincess

    So you are saying that Wiener probably shouldn’t have taken a picture of his then right??? 🙂 I mean how would he have got famous otherwise … hehehehe, great post!!

    • HoaiPhai

      You see, the whole thing about Anthony Weiner’s weiner photos illustrates why I am imploring today’s youth to take photos.

      Mr. Weiner was a U.S. congressman invited to all kinds of high-level parties in his professional capacity as a representitive of his constituency and the best subject he could come up with for an interesting photo was in his pants. Now I don’t know if he thought that his ding-dong was the most interesting thing he could capture on film (or memory chip) because hobnobbing with powerful people is boring by comparison or if it is a matter of the non-youthful brain losing sight of what really is interesting as a natural function of aging.

      Personally speaking, a “catalogue shot” of his reproductive gadget doesn’t have 1% of the fun-factor of a picture of a bunch of teens exposing their bare bottoms to people waiting at a bus stop out of the little window in the roof of their car (why do you think they call it a “moon roof”?).

      In a word, I’m not saying that Mr. Weiner shouldn’t have snapped a shot of his pickle, I’m saying that when he flips though his scrapbook in a few years, seeing that infamous photo won’t be nearly as fun for him as seeing shots he took of his “Little Democrat” at a college kegger way back when.

  • midnitechef

    The iGeneration can learn alot from you. I agree that there has been a shift in privacy, or the way young people dismiss it, posting pictures of themselves in sometimes precarious situations!

    • HoaiPhai

      I just don’t understand why this sort of thing is so widespread. Kids, especially, are so cyber-savvy these days and, therefore, should be aware of people who have had compromising photos of them published. Someone who allows racy photos to be taken of them exhibits a kind of (I cannot come up with the right word) maturity or permissiveness that belies their gullibility or naiveté as demonstrated by their letting the photos to be taken in the first place.

      • midnitechef

        Kids are not thinking of the consequences to their actions, however minimal they seem while in the moment. I don’t know how frequently employers are performing internet searches on young (and old) applicants, but as tech-savvy people become the hiring managers I imagine it will become the norm. I have “friended” my boss and another manager at work on FB, so I don’t post anything I would regret or have to explain at work the next day. Most of my profile revolves around food and my kids.

      • HoaiPhai

        I agree. I, too, have friended co-worders and management but it hasn’t changed my FB habits one iota. I never posted anything very personal and only a couple of times a year.

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