The world is changing in ways that our kids never thought would happen. If you are in the generation I’m in, the ‘graduated from high school when the Beatles were just becoming popular’ era, you have seen a helluva lot of change. I knew young ‘revolutionaries’ from Ivy league schools who, two years after carrying their red flags across Harvard Square and the President’s office at Columbia, were making a hundred grand a year working in the business side at Time Inc, and having what were then frighteningly expensive lunches that cost Twenty bucks. (In December, 1972 just days after LIFE – the weekly – closed down, one of the former staff photographers announced to me that with a bleak outlook for work – “the death of photojournalism” – we should only have a YooHoo and two hot dogs for lunch each day: total cost .. One Dollar.) For twenty bucks you could eat the fanciest lunch in the City. That’s what I would call Change: Woodstock Generation post hippies, wearing fancy clothes, living in 4 bedroom apartments on the East Side, and putting the same energy into making money as they did into raising hell. Many of these folks, my contemporaries, became the generation of parents who felt their kids should always be first in line, treated best, clothed and fed best, and first, of course. They were often seriously tedious in their parental behaviour, laying on the kids all their own feelings of ownership and entitlement. Now that the generational slam has taken place, and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a series of financial panics which more or less seemed unimaginable just a year ago, many of the foundations of our lives have been shaken to the core. None of the stuff we assumed we be around ‘forever’ seems like it will be. There is an underlying tension, much of it unspoken, some acknowledged, that covers much of our everyday lives. Food, shelter, all those basics very quickly become question marks instead of sure things. And few (besides those smart enough to sell short into this market) have maintained the kind of wealth that was theirs just a year ago. Many of us, had there been an essay question about the chances of this happening, would have written that it seemed almost inconceivable that such a shake up would occur. Yet, here we are, all trying to pretend, hoping it will somehow work out, maybe not like it was, but at least something short of a nightmare.
I hear that folks are starting to buy distressed homes in Florida (I don’t see that happening in Michigan for a long, long time) and maybe things have bottomed and will start to come back. But it’s interesting to watch the way the mercantile world is trying to make the most of it (‘making the most’ of it, is something just below ‘taking advantage’ of it). Last week I saw an incredible offer, that were I someone obliged to wear a suit every day, I no doubt would have jumped on.
The haberdasher Joseph A Banks was advertising a sale, buy one suit at $299, and get to suits of equal value Free. I have to say that it’s been a while since I paid a hundred bucks for a suit (a white “colonial” in Kenya, 1989) though when I attended a labor meeting recently, and saw three of the officials present, I realized that even a suit doesn’t necessarily make the man. But it was quite surprising to see such a massive promotion.
I’d love to know if they actually sold thousands of suits (from their over stocked wearhouse) or if it was just another attempt by a well known business entity, one which expanded from a few stores to many dozens during the big 21st century boomtime, to pretend they had a smile on their collective face while secretly grabbing on to their corporate wallet. There are a lot of vaguaries in the world of commerce, no doubt, and where commerce and technology intersect, it is truly a minefield. Consider this: About 8 years ago, Canon introduced the EOS1-v ($1800) 35mm film camera, capable of shooting a 36 exposure roll of film in about 5 seconds and using the best auto-focus system in the world. The focusing and metering were amazing, and in essence this was the finest 35mm camera ever made, since the invention of the first Leica in the early 1900s. Yet, because a far less capable digital camera had arrived – costly ($20000), slow to operate, and small (3 megapixel or so) chip size, this wondrous piece of photographic machinery was to be sentenced to the trash pit of photographic history. In the news business, where most of these cameras where sold, the ability to see immediately and transmit shortly there after, a picture just shot, meant that the hours you needed to wait for the film to be processed, were hours you were getting clobbered by someone with a digi cam. It didn’t take long for that side of the photo business to change over to digital, where speed, (and now, years later) quality was far superiour to film. (No, I won’t use the term analog, and I refuse, equally, to describe shooting with a digital camera as “capture”... Capture is something cowboys do with ropes in a herd of wild horses.) So in many ways, the parallel in the economic world, in which things all became digitally powered, accelerated the downturn simply because it could. Information moved more quickly, deals either happened or fell apart, loans which shouldn’t have been made were done and became risks to all the rest of us who essentially weren’t such a risk. Now we see the way the water flows downhill, grabbing everything in its way and pushing it along. At some point we may actually start to see the plane pull out of its nose dive, (sorry, mixed metaphors!) and it would be a pleasure of course. Who wants to bequeath such shoddiness to our kids, even if they are well dressed? I for one, would love to see a world where some kind of redemption meant that the wonderful Canon 1v in my cabinet had a reason to exist, and a purpose, to accompany me in my travels to see the world. For every hard drive of images I see building up in this world (on my desk, at the office, in huge world wide agencies who need terabytes of storage) I still feel a certain comfort in the existence of a roll of film.
Films from the Bonneville Salt Flats, 1964
Simple, not prone to destruction by electrical failure or ElectroMotivePulse, capable of living at least another 50 or 100 years (who here owns a hard drive which has lived for 50 years?) film will be the place where those pictures in my heart rest. Sure, it’s not as convenient as digi; you can’t shoot and upload during a single Billy Mays ad for Oxyclean, the way my SD cards do. But should I live another 20 or 30 years, I know I’ll be happy to be in the company of that film, and that somebody else may have the chance to see it, too. (The lesson: make backups of your hard drives and keep them in a big shoe box.) We’re just sayin’... David
1964: A Sunbeam Alpine during Speed Week at Bonneville