As important a moment as a wedding might be, it is a singular event, out of focus when compared to the bulk of one’s life. Weddings are rare May snows when silhouetted against the millions of daily moments that comprise the range of our lives. It’s easy to be joyous for a wedding. It’s much more difficult to live a good life without at least some pictures that bring us back to moments of turmoil or indecision. Weirdly enough, we mentally fog them over much of the time, allowing nostalgia to cloud our recollections of pain, struggle, or loss. Our minds revere the ability to discolor our past in an emotionally satisfying palette. A good picture taken even in circumstances of unhappiness can later paradoxically bring us peace and joy.
Sifting through boxes and albums personally assembled by someone is an invitation into their private life. Whether selected photos are chosen for strategic intent or personal worth, they are placed there with care, as significant slivers of that person’s life. Each picture is a moment someone thought to capture for future review and reflection. All too often, a picture snapped in haste or humor evolves to become a touchstone memory in someone’s life. A great picture reveals a truth we didn’t even recognize. The things or people we believe to be memorable are often supplanted by memories we simply failed to appreciate as they approached.
After doing many archive projects for friends and family, I continue to find myself confronting the complexity of the people in the pictures. Seeing a person’s life spread out in front of me tends to demonstrate that each of us travels the same byways – and if we are lucky, with people who catch us in moments of mirth.
Quite often, as I am digitizing a picture of another person, I suddenly see that person from a new perspective. Whether it is a moment of coy surprise, insidious delight or unadulterated glee, something in the picture feels alive and spans across the days or decades from when it was taken. I feel like Christopher Reeve’s character in “Someone In Time,” imagining that time is indeed an illusion and some unseen hand has flung open a door facing backwards in time. As strange as it may sound, these moments are profound. For anyone who has never done a project with the photos of a person’s life, the concept might seem slightly doubtful.
In parting, let me remind you to take your pictures and then let them breathe. Share them. A picture not shared is a life unrevealed. Time will brick up your door moment by moment, leaving your view cluttered if you do not reflect back by peering into the individual memories that pictures provide us. Don’t let your life be frittered away by the attempt to simply capture moments – but equal to that caution should be the urge to share and reveal oneself in pictures to those in your life.