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  • Genine Babakian

Taking Selfies Before They Were a Thing

Before “selfie” was a word, my husband and I used to take them. With a camera. A camera that was only a camera and not a device to make phone calls, send texts (also not yet a thing), livestream video, or find your way from point A to point B.

We didn’t call it a “selfie,” of course. We said something like: “Let’s do that thing where we take a picture of ourselves and see how it comes out!” A staggering profligacy of words, I admit, but we didn’t know what else to call it.

Waiting was also a thing in those days. In fact, waiting to see how the picture came out was the whole point of this game. We’d turn the camera around, point it on us, and click, wondering which body parts and which elements of scenery made it into the frame.

Once we came to the end of the roll of film, we’d take it in to be developed. Sometimes it took hours; sometimes days. Whenever I returned to collect my printed photos, the anticipation was too much for me; I ripped open the envelope to rifle through the photos before I’d even left the shop.

I realized this week just how much I miss that feeling of wonder. Having discovered some old, undeveloped film in the back of a drawer, I took the four rolls to be developed. I had no idea when the pictures were taken or what I would find. I doubt I could even find our camera, much less remember when I last used it. But when I went to pick up the pictures, there it was: that old feeling of anticipation. I made it as far as the parking lot before I ripped open the first envelope.

To call it a disappointment would be an understatement. I could tell from the blurred images of floors, walls and random objects that a small child had gotten hold of the camera.There was, to be fair, a picture of a broken chair that bordered on the existential. And the still life with green plastic cup and margarine tub had some merit. There were plenty of shots of chins and feet and half-faces. All blurry. All dark.

I raised my hopes when I opened the second envelope. Surely this one could not be so bad?

It could. In fact, it was worse.

The third roll had pictures of actual humans, but the photos were so dark they were barely recognizable. I was starting to wonder why I’d paid $40 for this; throwing the undeveloped film away would have been the wiser way to go.

And then I opened the fourth envelope. Sitting there in the Duane Reade parking lot, I traveled back a decade in time. To my son wearing a diaper and a feather boa; my daughter with her popsicle-colored tongue; the neighborhood children playing tag in the backyard. The grass was literally greener.

There were plenty of bloopers in that roll – nothing shots that we would delete instantly today without a thought – but the thrill was in not knowing what the next frame held. By the time I flipped through them all those pictures had sparked at least $40 worth of joy.

Does this mean I am going back to the days of 36-exposure film? Of course not. But it reminds me, in today’s world of immediate gratification, that anticipation is a thrilling part of the journey.

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