Words get cheaper by the day. So do pictures. The technological revolution has made almost everyone an author and photographer. When I started in this line of work some 26 years ago, pictures required film. Film cost money. As a result, much more care was taken when aiming the camera and hitting the shutter.
The same is true for the written word. In the days before word processors, when everything had to be typed and copied on real paper, people were more judicious in what they wrote. It had to be important to warrant the time and cost. Back then, if you overexposed the film or realized that the paragraph you had written didn’t make sense, you were faced with the choice of using the inferior product or doing it over. Now, we fix the digital image and quickly edit the poorly written paragraph.
The written word is now so cheap that even I can enter the blogosphere as an author instead of a reader. Joe Jacobs, our Manager of Marketing and Revenue and coordinator of this blog, warned the correspondents, “We don’t need War and Peace.”
Don’t worry, Joe; I just hope I can come up with one original idea. Tolstoy is safe.
This blog writing assignment got me thinking about old photo albums. I have always believed that if you really want to know what is important to people, look at their photo albums. This would be especially true of photo albums from the age of film. What would we find in a random survey of the albums? Pictures of the people who were important to the photographer would be a common theme. Many of these pictures would be obviously staged. Many would be in front of automobiles, which were also important. Besides, taking a photo was often done as the visit ended and they were collected at the car anyway. Note these examples from decades past, taken at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.
Another theme of my own personal albums is natural and historic places. My family is usually standing awkwardly in front of them or near signs identifying them. “We were here!”, the picture screams. Special people are at special places. This place and time rose to the level of expending one of the valuable 24 frames of film allowed on a roll.
Oddly, we never lined up for a picture in front of a Wal-Mart sign even though we’ve been to more Wal-Mart stores than State Parks. Hmm…where did we buy the film? What about food? We have eaten in hundreds of fast food places while in route to the natural and historic sites of our past vacations, yet where are the pictures of us standing in line at the counter ready to order? My apologies to Ronald and the Colonel, they are not included even once. Buying film and eating were important, but somehow they didn’t quite reach the level of pressing the shutter.
We would have taken a lot fewer pictures if it had not been for our picnics and other visits to natural places. Even though they were a small part of our lives in total time, they loom large in the photo album and in our family’s collective memory. They are right up there with weddings, graduations, and squiggly babies.
The fact that you are reading this blog tells me that you probably have a similar life experience. Your photo album contains shots of different people at different places than mine but lead us to the universal idea. People place a high value on natural and cultural sites. These are great places to create quality experiences with the people we love.
If your own album were composed mostly of photos in strip mall parking lots, this blog would seem a strange and alien place. The odds that you would have read this far down into the article are small.
Isn’t it nice that everyone has the means to register a snapshot of their ideas and valued places? Could it be that Facebook and blogs have taken the place of the photo albums of yesteryear? War and Peace is a story of several families responding to the invasion of Russia by Napoleon. It is still read because of the universal concepts it contains. Maybe through the wonder of modern technology, some of us are writing our own personal version of War and Peace. This is a collective story about a part of our lives that is worth taking pictures of, worth remembering, worth sharing, worth preserving.
Words and pictures may be cheaper than they once were, but the ideas and emotions they capture still have the power to take us to another time, to give our lives meaning. Look once more into your own albums. Search them for your own story and the part parks had in shaping you and your family. Maybe things have not changed that much after all.
–Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park and Lake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.