Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Thousand Words

I’ve been going through old pictures lately—scanning, saving, and uploading. I’ve looked at these albums so many times over the years that I know which pictures are in which albums (and there are A LOT of albums), and I know which pictures I’ll see before I turn page; they’re old friends. As the past rushes up to meet me, it grounds me in the present moment: “I was there, then….I am here, now.”

While I was growing up, we moved every 3-4 years because my dad was in the Air Force. Moving meant purging and packing. I was good at the purging. I didn’t attach strongly to many objects. Aside from my ever-growing collection of books, I carried only a few objects from place to place. But the photo albums, those were dear to me. I would haul them out of their closets or cabinets and spend time studying them, remembering moments, people, and feelings.  

My mom took pictures all the time, and she liked to direct the shots. She was sloooooow about it. She would give orders and wait until we shuffled ourselves into place—our very own Olan Mills (there are some truly ghastly real-deal Olan Mills’ specials tucked away somewhere). But she was also really good at capturing those candid moments as well—laughter, tears, surprise, etc. I’m terrified to think what she might have been like in our age, the age of the smart phone, with constant access to a camera. Back then, there were still rolls of film to develop; you couldn’t get too click-crazy. I suppose she would have been much like I am now: I take pictures of my son nearly every day. Between the sleep deprivation, relative sameness of our days and the passage of time, I’m sure I’ll forget much of his growing up. Not the big things, of course, but those quiet, funny or tender moments which begin and end in a matter of seconds before the next tantrum happens or our collective attention wanders to something else. These pictures don’t account for all of those gaps, but they do fill in the spaces a bit. They act as signposts, marking time for us.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve discovered that these old photos function in another way for me. Often, they are windows into things I didn’t know/couldn’t see/didn’t understand when those pictures were taken. Although the pictures have remained unchanged, the stories they tell have shifted over the years.  When I look at them now, I see them not only as my child-self but also as my adult-self and, now, as a mother. Looking at them I discover lost tableaus of tenderness. I catch glimpses of parental pride. I recognize the tedious work of childrearing made somehow more perfect and less mundane by the lens.

Life tick-tocks around us. Our bodies succumb to gravity. We bald or go grey. We move in one direction, from birth to death (unless you’re Doctor Who, I suppose).  Photographs, on the other hand, are amaranthine and ephemeral: they outlast us, and they expire the moment they are taken. They show us everything and nothing at all. Sometimes they lie to us. Sometimes they tell us more truth than we can otherwise tell ourselves. And sometimes they reveal love stories that got buried beneath scraps of pain, heaps of time and whole junkyards of silences and secrets. So I keep looking.

1 comment:

  1. Those pictures are beautiful! You have me wanting to pull out the photo albums! :)