All I’ve Got is a Photograph…

Ian and I are in the long, arduous process of buying a house and moving (while also planning a wedding and working 7 days a week, because we don’t half-ass anything) and while searching through his dad’s basement (where much of our stuff is currently stored) I came across an old, beat-up photo album, containing photos from 1992-1998. I remembered having it, but because it was in such rough shape, I had mostly ignored it as I compiled all the other albums into neat, chronological sets.

But I pulled it out and began looking through it — there are photos from three years of Hidden Lake Girl Scout camp, cast photos from Scrooge and The Wizard of Oz, pictures of my dolls and my cats. Photos of old friends, of times I’d forgotten.

But what really struck me was less the memories of these photos and more the actual photos themselves.  These days, everyone takes photos of everything and everyone.  This drives me nuts.  On the 4th of July, I witnessed a guy watching the Cosmic Karma Fire Troupe perform through his tiny screen.  They were right there in front of him, but he was hell-bent on recording the moment for posterity.  It was embarrassing, frankly.  By contrast, these days, I photograph almost nothing.

Ian is a professional photographer and a damn good one.  He knows how to get a photo, whether composed or in-the-moment.  But he occasionally laments that he spends so much time recording other people’s lives that he, like the aforementioned idiot, worries he’s missing out on his own.


But as I stated before, what really struck me about these photographs was what was happening just outside the picture itself, the impetus for the photograph. These were still the days of 35mm and, better still, disposable cameras, so film, especially to a 13 year old, was a rare and pricey thing.  These are photos that couldn’t be edited on screen, photos we took chances with — the chance that someone might be blinking, making a weird face, that it might be over or under-lit, out of focus or out of frame.  You wouldn’t know until the photos came back three days later, and if that was the only picture you managed to snag of Jeremy S., well, you were going to hold onto that photo like treasure until you got your hands on another roll of film. And I’m fascinated by the raw, unedited appeal of these old photographs — the people in the background, the story behind how they were taken, the definitive history of my hair or my teenage bedroom, how I can mark the passage of time in teenage crushes by posters on my wall. (I’ll always love you, David Duchovny)

One thing I do regret about some of these photos is that I got rid all the pictures I had of my last boyfriend, Aaron, who I dated through high school and college and was engaged to, however briefly.  It’s a piece of my mythology that has been all but erased, and I’m a little sorry about that.  Those early photographs especially told of a pretty contemptuous teenage relationship, my first and one fraught with anxiety and melodrama, all captured in squinting, awkward, over-lit photographs snatched in the moment because he hated having his picture taken and actively made it impossible to get a decent shot, like a petulant child.

(David Duchovny would have never behaved that way)

These days, I would have 200 photographs of our first date and every moment afterward, but I’m not so sure that’s the solution either.  Because after awhile, it all just becomes white noise — there really is something to finding that ugly photograph again that can trigger more memories, more emotion, than 10 of the most perfectly-photoshopped, cropped, red-eye-reduced portraits.


Yesterday I got out Ian’s old 35mm (the one this photo was taken with) and started playing around with it.  I want to get back to exploring photography, the whole of the photos themselves. The background.  The singular moment, book-ended in memory only by the before and after.  I’m not looking for the perfect shot, but rather, the imperfect. 


2 responses to “All I’ve Got is a Photograph…”

  1. Sometimes the lack of metadata about old photos can be fascinating. For example, I have an old 35mm picture of some sheep walking across my yard at night. The flash makes their eyes demonic, but it also illuminates a tiny corer of a car’s front bumper in the background. Since I do not know when the photo was taken (beyond the 1995-2000 time frame), it is impossible to determine what car it was, or whose. The potential answers are so varied, depending on when the picture was taken, that the identity of that car will remain a mystery. The reality of that photo is mundane. I prefer the photo this way, without a complete backstory, since it encourages me to try solving the mystery. The only option I have is to rummage through stacks of long dormant memories, making incomplete connections and wild assumptions. If the same picture were taken today, it would have the latitude/longitude coordinates, lists of attendees saved to Facebook, and #devilsheep on twitter. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the details included in web 3.0 social media metadata, but I probably won’t be fascinated by many of my Facebook photos in 2035, either.

  2. […] been on this big tear of organizing ephemera into more chronological categories.  I just recently finished the photographs…and now it’s onto the mix […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s