In the photograph, Bunny is celebrating her 16th birthday. Bunny, of course, isn’t her real name. I can’t possibly know what her real name is. But I’m sure about her age. She is in front of a large cake, about to blow out her candles. I’ve counted them twice. Sixteen. I was first introduced to Bunny and her family one week ago, although in truth, I don’t actually know them. Let me explain.
The hardest part of photography, in my opinion, is waiting for the roll of film to come back, transformed, by way of chemical alchemy, into visible paper images. (How I envy those photographers who have their own dark rooms, but I’m not there yet.) When I looked, however, inside the envelope of prints-my stomach knotted as usual-over whether I’d just blown good money on bad pictures, or if I genuinely had some truly exceptional photos, I was not expecting to find what I did. Twelve black and white deckle-edged family snapshots from years ago. The forties or fifties, judging by the way the people in the pictures were dressed. Two teenaged girls at the beach wearing one-piece swimsuits. Some guy in uniform. Four figures clad in dim evening light, toasting marshmallows over a camp fire. That sort of thing. Now the particular roll of film in question was the same as every other roll of film I’d ever used. (Kodacolor-X) The camera was my same trusty Brownie, and my subject matter was nothing out of the ordinary. Landscapes, mostly, with a few pictures of my dog.
The clerk at the drug store was at a loss. He simply said it must have been some sort of error, apologized, and gave me five new rolls of film for free.
I’m looking over the latest prints I’ve picked up today. No longer bothering with the details of setting or subject matter (including my dog-sorry girl!) now I merely load the film into my camera, click off 12 exposures in rapid succession and hurry to the drug store. (Those folks must think I’m a nut, I’ve been dropping off film on a daily basis.) It’s in this latest set of pictures that Bunny is posing with her cake. I can’t believe how fast she’s growing up! Only six rolls ago, her parents got married (the guy in the uniform, to one of those teen-aged girls) And three rolls ago, Bunny was learning to walk, taking her first steps on a trip to Yellowstone (right when Old Faithful spouted-the timing!)
But here’s the deal. Even as I can’t help but wonder what the future holds for Bunny and her family-these strangers I’ve come to know and love-I’m choked by the realization that tragedy and heartache, at some point, are inevitable. To this extent, I’ve decided never to find out-let them stay perpetually happy on Bunny’s sweetest day. And so, this latest roll will be the last.
Besides, everyone will be using digital cameras soon. I’m pretty sure I saw that somewhere.