Cameras and memories; tools recording joy, fear, sadness, love, surprise and anger that leave mystery, longing, disappointment, shame, pain, disgust, wonder and excitement to those who witness them.
Me, I’ve always been particular towards letters instead. Kept every single one I’ve ever gotten after age sixteen. Don’t know what compelled me to do it, but I’m glad I did. Letters freeze-frame a sentiment or mood - suspend that moment in time and keep it paused forever - as long as the paper lasts and the ink doesn’t fade. They are different, requiring an energy that photos lack; it takes time to create a letter.
Took awhile for me to come around with a camera. Photography became interesting while I was in the military when I didn't always have time to sit and write. Something pushed me to preserve my moments in action so with a small pocket camera I did just that. Like many of my hobbies, the basics were easily consumed so imprudently I dived into the deep end and purchased a Canon T90 back in the good ol’ days of 1988. Only time in my life a saleswoman tried to talk me out of buying merchandise - yet I walked out of that store with the second of one of those cameras sold in the state of Iowa at the time; the first was owned by a professional journalist at the Des Moines Register. Or so I was told.
Parted of several month’s pay, I was the proud owner of a camera fifteen sizes too big for me and several stratospheres over my head. I can’t say my money was wisely spent; the camera body and flash alone cost me three month’s pay and I still didn’t have any lenses. And I had yet to develop one shot. Two years and 4500developed photos later, well … much beer money was traded for blurry, burned, and flashed memories by this sprayer. I did get some good photos thought, and the camera never complained. I treated it like a baby and learned everything I could about it but I still never surpassed ten percent of the camera’s full capabilities. I still have every single photo I took. Digital photography saved me, in a sense. While it allowed me to forgo developing every single photo just to see it, it also allowed me to easily transcend the twenty-four to thirty-six shot photo limits. The 60,000+ photos on my computer would make for one heavy photo album.
I find old photos fascinating. Found a box in my dad’s belongings after he passed. From what I later discovered there had been many more; these had been salvaged from the garbage at my grandfather’s house years ago by my mom. I recognized half of the people in them and a couple are from the turn of the century. Of course no names, dates, or any type of information is written on them. Drives me nuts, really, not knowing who they are but knowing they are family just by the resemblance. You’d think it would be easy to figure out, but it isn’t. Just like people.
Dad was a first born. He had a sister two years younger who died at sixteen and a half months old. My father was an only child for awhile, becoming a big brother again at 14. Twins two years later made him a big brother three times over and the last showed up when he was 18 years old. Makes for different family dynamics having kids with such age differences. One not so obvious fact is knowledge of the family. Because Dad was older he remembered many things his brothers and sisters didn’t. I never had the chance to ask him about the photos, finding them after his funeral. And I know that it’s entirely possible that he wouldn’t have known any more than my aunts or uncles about these memories but still, it irritates me to think I’m looking at family I can’t identify. I ’ve contacted several distant relatives in Belgium where my great grandparents came from and found many who gave me good information. I was able to identify one or two photos but at this point the ones who could have really helped me are long gone. So, I look at them with a pang of mystery.
Never could understand why a person wouldn’t be interested in knowing family. My wife is one of those people. Doesn’t care to know anything about either parent’s side or their history. Keeps her mind in the present, itself commendable since I find it difficult to do that sometimes. I completely understand not being interested in people, especially specific people, but I would expect a little curiosity to know who you’re part of and where you came from. Some folks just ain’t interested, simple as that. To me it seems normal to name all my grandparent’s brothers and sisters including their spouses. Maybe not their kids or their kid’s kids, but I’ve got it written down so I know where to find it if asked. Got quite a few interesting stories about them too, handed down from person to person. I guess that’s the only way of keeping them around, isn’t it? Simply remembering them.
You know though, our memories aren’t that great - most time they come with their own little pang of mystery. You take any two people who’ve shared an intimate moment or any emotional incident together and ask them to describe it ten, twenty, or even forty years later - well, you’ll create a story alright. Two in fact, with different words and different covers. The human mind is funny like that. Fills in blanks and remembers things that weren’t. Susceptible to suggestions, wants and beliefs amongst a whole lot of other things mixed up in those little universes in our heads. Maybe that’s our culture.
Speaking of culture, you know that Europe has open air markets? Even the small towns have weekly markets where you can get just about anything - from shoes to hats to cheeses and wines. Vendors pull up into town, park their trucks and vans and poof - open and unfold the sides of the vehicle to present their wares to the buying public. They even have monthly antique markets. Nothing like what you’d see in the states, I’ll bet. In fact, you can easily find items older than post-Columbus America itself. Kind of humbling and amazing at the same time. I like looking at the different items; miniature time machines all to themselves. Makes me wonder about their past. Who used them? Touched them? Where did it come from? What memories do they hold for other people? The saddest thing, I think, are the old family photos that somehow made their way into a shoe box amongst strangers at a market. Feel sorry for them. They make me want to buy them all up and take them home I feel so lonely for them. People’s memories thrown in the middle of a crowd and up for sale. Be neat to make a huge book full of these moments in time, these sad and forgotten memories then create a whole back story to them. Completely fictitious and fantastical. I wonder if there is anyone yet alive that might have known these people and the places they were at? Smiling faces, youthfulness, and gaiety in eras we think must have been difficult, but back then they weren't really. No more difficult than now a hundreds years in the future. All forgotten and lost, right here in my hand, relics of a time that has passed them by and left them here.
Memories aren’t much different than photos. A memory is something you can recollect, go over time and time again but is only important to the people involved or who knew those in the photo. They sit, there and available, ready to be refreshed in memories tangent and principle to the people in them. They’re tangible and yet they aren’t; you hold an image burned on a piece of paper in your hand but it isn’t yours and not of you. If anything they’re shared. Others can remember the same time, the same place, and the same people. And yet others wonder, who were they and what became of them? Memories woven together, like a photo floating out there somewhere, kept in an ethereal album.
Out of reach but never lost.