Digital photography saved my life. Or at least it helped me remember a lot of it

I miss the telephone. I really do. I don’t mean my iPhone, or I guess any smartphone. Those aren’t phones, they’re pocket computers that allow you to make telephone calls. No, I mean the old-fashioned, bakelite telephone. I spent hours on it as a teenager talking to friends. And then later, as an editor and writer, I spent a lot of time every day talking to writers, sources, friends who worked elsewhere.

Apart from the conversation, something that’s turning into a lost art, I loved the spontaneity of phone calls. You didn’t have to arrange a time to chat unless you wanted to. You just called, or picked up the “receiver” and talked. If it was a bad time—the universal excuse during my day job days was “sorry, I’m on deadline”—you just said so and talked another time. Easy as pie. I kinda laugh now when I’m working on a freelance piece and my clients won’t make normal phone calls. They email invitations with complicated instructions. Then you click on something and the allotted time pops up on your computer’s calendar, and it involves using an app on your computer or phone. Kludgy, no?

But I’m not a Luddite. I keep our home network reasonably up to date and recently made sure that The Spartan Woman replaced her 9-year-old MacBook Air with a new model. We’re about to jump ship and live most of the year as Italian residents, and computers and similar devices are a lot more expensive there.

I save my reverence, though, for digital photography in general—and my iPhone specifically. I have at last count some 37,000+ photos and videos on my little MacBook, and they’re easily accessible and fun to look at on a bright colorful screen. And to do that I don’t have to set up a slide viewer and sit in the dark, boring friends with my narratives. And having an iPhone—that non-phone phone—with a decent camera doubled the pleasure because I rarely forget important events or good times, or places I’ve visited.

Yeah, I take a lot of pictures.

The point was made clear by my weeks of scanning family snapshots. Most of them were stored in boxes in the basement gathering dust and who knows what else. Thousands of precious photos in envelopes were casually piled up in boxes, with no organization, and I’m racing to scan in decades worth of snapshots. I had to guess when certain events took place. It was relatively easy with my kids, because I mostly remember what they looked at during different stages of their lives. But the specifics were fuzzy–great t-shirts, where we had drinks in Montreal, my younger one running around on a Cape Cod beach. Our hairstyles. You get the idea.

Welcome to my laboratory.

The best part of the mass scanning was getting to reconquer my memory and my life. It was mainly a blur for almost two decades, as we went to grad school, partied, had our kids while working long hours (me) or dealing with disadvantaged kids as work (The Spartan Woman) and taking care of our charming young women while I coped with late night deadlines and headline inspiration that came on late night walks with the dog. Before scanning some 6 GB of snapshots, those two decades were in soft focus in my mind, a blur of newsrooms punctuated by vacations and big life events.

By contrast, everything from 2001 is crystal clear. That’s when I bought a decent digital camera, and I imported nearly every shot. (Importing photos even sounds archaic now. When I take a shot with my phone, it magically pops up on my Mac.) It’s fun to see the differences from the fairly drab digital shots 20 years ago taken by a Nikon or Canon point and shoot, and the near-pro quality of photos from my last two iPhones.

The quality, too. Here we have a tale of two families. TSW’s childhood and early adulthood was pretty well documented in film-based photo prints. Her father was a photographer, and a good one especially when his subjects were people. So there are good portraits and spontaneous action shots that are well-lit and framed. My family, on the other hand, used a bunch of nasty little Instamatics with their tiny film. So there’s hardly any detail in the shots to begin with. That flaw was compounded by the fact that my parents, sweet souls that they were, happened to be lousy photographers. My mother was better at it, but she was usually too busy cooking or looking after us to be bothered with pictures. My father was just indifferent and not that good at it.

Luckily, there’s Photoshop. Every now and then I’ll come across a photo that’s worth fixing. My mom’s teenage photo album in particular has a lot of gems, from rollerskating with her sisters on the streets of East New York, to my Uncle Tommy’s homecoming from fighting in Europe in World War II.

Soldier boy Tommy comes home to East New York Brooklyn in 1945.

Come to think about it, going through these shots and fixing them using modern photo editing software is the perfect marriage of old and new tech. I’ll share some more shots as I do that.

EDIT: My gear: A Plustek ePhoto scanner with ePhoto software—easy to use, you just feed the snaps through the front plate and they appear on your screen. Then you can edit, save or send the scans.

MacBook Air M2: I updated my computer gear. I do some video editing on it, too, nothing really intense but the new M chip MacBooks are really fast and the battery life is unbelievable. I’ve never plugged mine in because I had to, in 4 months

LaCie portable external hard drives. One is the primary location for the scans; I don’t want to fill up my computer’s hard drive with them. I back this up to another external drive, just because I’m superstitious about backups and lack of.

Adobe Photoshop: Apple’s system Photo software is pretty good with edits, but for real fun and games, Photoshop and its companion Lightroom are peerless for quick and accurate color correction and for teasing pixels out of faded photographic prints.

Welcome to the real New York: Take a walk with me around one of its few nongentrified neighborhoods

This city is insane. It really is. If you aren’t rich, or a trustafarian, good luck finding a place to live. It’s not just regular folks who are having trouble. Even elected government officials are complaining that they can’t find a decent apartment at a decent price.

And it’s not just housing. Food, both in stores and in restaurants, is absurdly expensive. Have a car? Insurance alone becomes a major expense. I know wah-wah-wah. I can’t help it. Maybe I’m just building my case for being on the precipice of leaving New York, except for regular visits because I’ve become the nonno of the Cutest Baby the World Has Ever Seen ™. Yeah, I’m prejudiced.

But really. One of our kids spent the past couple of months visiting prospective apartments. Real estate agents have apparently gotten really good at using their phone’s ultra-wide camera lenses to make closets look somewhat habitable. Or in some cases, they don’t care about presentation and leave an array of roach traps on the kitchen counter. Yeah, that’s where I want to cook dinner every night. Even more than the crappy apartments, long a New York tradition, are the sky-high prices. Thousands a month for what’s basically a tenement, in the kind of building that had its heyday around 1938. And an application process that makes candidate vetting for the CIA seem lackadaisical.

So it’s been a nice break spending a couple of days a week with daughter number 1, who gave birth to a baby boy last month. The kid’s adorable and loves to boogie around his basinet—he’s going to be a handful. And said daughter lives in one of the few neighborhoods in Brooklyn that’s proudly non-gentrified. This is not to say it’s cheap; a typical rowhouse goes for a couple of million. But it hasn’t yet caught the precious disease. You know the symptoms: Curated coffee, whatever that is, little restos owned by recent and hipper than you French or Italian arrivals. Lots of twentysomethings from Ohio subsidized by mom and pop, the kind of people who sit around curated hipster coffee bars with no apparent means of support.

Boy am I sounding like a grouch. I am a grouch. Sue me.

What’s made me less of a grouch, other than the perfect grandson, is that old-timey feeling you get from walking around Bay Ridge. It looks more or less the same as it did when I was growing up; I traveled through the neighborhood on my way to high school eons ago. But that’s not to say it’s stayed the same. Back then it was inhabited mainly by recent immigrants from Italy and Greece, and had large Irish-American and Scandinavian-American presences. The mix has changed now and there are lots of people from Asia and the Middle East.

What all that means is that walking up and down Bay Ridge’s avenues (like Manhattan’s, they run north-south), you’ll pass Italian, Greek, Palestinian, Georgian, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Mexican restaurants. I’m sure I left something out, but you get the idea. Often the places are cheek by jowl, with interesting juxtapositions. And while some might be a little upscale, most of them exist for their fellow immigrants. They aren’t fashion shows boiled down to eateries, they’re part of the New York tradition of local immigrant-owned businesses serving their communities, rather than competing for a New York Times restaurant review and a Michelin star. This Georgian restaurant’s menu looks really good to me right now:

So let’s take a look. First up, when Italians talk about how similar they are to Greeks, they often use the phrase “stessa razza, stessa faccia.” Get past the imperfect rhyme and it means “same race, same face.” And while Italy and Greece are separated by the Adriatic and Ionian seas, in Bay Ridge their people live cheek by jowl, especially when it comes to restaurants.

Over in the Middle East, the Palestinians and Israelis are mixing it up again, with the Lebanese sometimes getting in the mix, In Bay Ridge? Jewish delis and Middle Eastern restaurants coexist, no problem.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, you’ll find combinations of ethnic shops and restaurants that you would never see on a map, or maybe anywhere else in the world. Thai and Sicilian, anyone?

Let’s pay tribute to the newer establishments, whose owners are from Central America and the Middle East:

Of course Bay Ridge wouldn’t be Bay Ridge without an Irish pub with an pun name: