The Magical Photo Wheel


For the past few days I’ve stayed in an apartment with a photo wheel.

In case you’re under the age, of, oh, 30, a photo wheel was a grandparent apartment staple in the 1970s and 1980s. You’d send in your film to the local CVS or Caldor, wait a week and get back 24 4″-by-6″ photos in a little paper packet. About, oh, seven were decent, three were OK, two were passable. The rest were either blurry, or lacking heads, or blurry and lacking heads.

At least that’s how it went in my house.

Of the seven usable images, three or four would wind up in the photo wheel. Over time, your photo wheel would be filled with about 50 mediocre pictures of the family and neighbors and grandkids in different poses. For example, from this particular photo wheel we have this …


And this …


And this …


Are any of the images good? Not technically. But, together in one big wheel, they tell the story of a family, an era, a shaky hand and a crappy lens. The picture above, for example, features my sister-law-law (right) and some chick who likely vanished into the Ft. Lauderdale sands many decades ago. She’s out there somewhere, perhaps longing for the days of thick-rimmed glasses and awkward bathing suits. Who knows?

In many ways, I’ll take the ol’ photo wheel over 150 selfies with an iPhone.

Today’s pictures, after all, are disposable and fleeting.

The photo wheel lives forever.

PS: A funny memory: Back in 1984 my family took a two-week trip to California. One day I was goofing around with my parents’ camera when Dad emerged from the shower naked. I snapped his photo—and I’ve never heard the man scream any louder. Needless to say, that roll never found its way to Caldor.