The past is a strange place. That’s my thought for today. It comes into my head because of what I’ve been working on lately. Y’see I love history. I’ve been a fan of history since my childhood when my mother used to bring my sisters and I to the library to pick out books to read. I’d pick out history books. I can’t recall the name but there was a line of books for children that were biographies of the heroes of the American Revolution. I remember reading about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones, John Adams, the Marquis de Lafayette, and probably many more that I can’t recall right now.

My love for history started early and because of that I like to keep track of things. Photographs specifically are what I’m talking about in this piece. My mother took family photographs my whole childhood. I didn’t start taking photographs for myself until my freshman year of college. That was in 1984 and I got my first camera then. I also took a photography class in college so I was able to get acquainted with my 35mm camera, develop my own black and white film, and make prints of my photos. I had fun doing it.

Even after my one and only photography class ended I kept on taking pictures. I usually took photos of friends, gatherings, and everyday events. After college I went to work at the offices of Marvel Comics in NYC and it wasn’t as easy to take pictures anymore. My 35mm camera wasn’t always around. This was long before the days when everyone carried a camera phone so if you wanted to take photos you usually had to have a good reason to carry your gear. I carried mine every now and then.

But then sometime in the early 1990s I got my first pocket camera. The Olympus Stylus. It was about the size of a large bar of soap so I could carry it in my pocket all the time. And I did. I became the guy who carried a camera around in case one was needed. I also took pictures whenever I could. I wish I had taken more. Back before the digital age you usually needed a reason take a photo. It took time, effort, and money to get photos printed so I didn’t just shoot willy nilly like I do today. But still I shot more photos than most.

Because of my love of history I got into the habit early of writing the names, dates, and places on the back of my photos. I may have only been 20 at the time I started but I knew there would eventually come a time when I might not remember the names of all the people who were in my photos. Some were good friends with names never to be forgotten but most were acquaintances who came and went. It’s a good thing I got into that habit because thirty years later a lot of names have slipped away.

Lately I’ve been scanning in a lot of old family photos. I’ve borrowed a few photo albums from family members and now the photos are digital. Photos from the 1920s up through the 1970s. Even with digital photos I have to write names, dates, and places on them. Usually I put the name of whoever is in the photo in the file name and I put them in a folder with the date and place on it. That way it’s easy to find and I don’t need any specific program to keep things straight.

Lately I’ve been doing something different. I’ve been loading all those old photos onto my iPad. I’ve always had my own photos on my iPad but they only run from about 1985 until present. With the old photos I know have photos spanning about 90 years on my iPad. That’s an amazing thing.

One of the annoying things about the iPad and Apple’s iOS in general it that it ignores files names and makes its own new file names. So all this names that make my photos easily identifiable on my desktop are useless when I transfer the photos onto my iPad. It’s really annoying.

What the iOS on the iPad does have is facial recognition software. It’s far from perfect. It doesn’t work anywhere near as well as on TV shows when the cops use it. But it does allow me to add names to faces. First the iPad has to scan the photos for faces. There is no start button for this. You plug the iPad in and lock the screen and then it’s supposed to automatically start scanning. This may be what’s happening but there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for it. Sometimes it scans faces and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it scans all the faces in a photo, sometimes none, and sometimes just some of them. It’s weird how scattershot it is.

So as the iPad has been slowly scanning faces I’ve been naming them. It also tries to find other photos with those faces and automatically name them. That’s hit or miss too. So far I have about 400 named faces on my iPad. I don’t know if that’s a lot or a little but it seems like a lot.

So what about all of this makes the past so strange? It’s that having all those old photos means that I have a lot of photos of people who are passed on now. I have photos of them when they were young, middle aged, and old. I have photos of my living relatives at all three of those stages too. Plus I’ve been sitting with some of my older relatives and asking them the names of some of the extraneous people in the photos from their childhoods. I’m learning the names of young children who haven’t been young in 75 years but to me they’re five years old.

All in all it puts me in a strange head space. I’ve been looking at and naming so many photos that everyone is both old and young to me. The 1920s are still here and there are young people having fun on the shores of the Hudson River. So are the 1950s in a different part of town. Everyone likes to pose by their new car no matter what the year so what year is it exactly? I keep jumping from time to time as the iPad wants to know who’s face this one is. And the iPad doesn’t even care about time. As far as I know there is no place to date a photo as I name them. So in an odd way all time becomes one as I wander through the photos on the iPad. It’s a strange place to be.