The Quiet Lives of Old Photographs

The photographs of my life huddle together in the darkness, secure in a bedroom cabinet. They now lead quiet lives, disturbed only occasionally. They once brought only pleasure to me and upon inspection, wonder. Now going through them brings a quotient of sadness too. The scale began to tip about 10 or 15 years ago. Their nearby presence exerts an energy that often tempts me to pay them a visit, but one that I usually resist. It’s a bottomless journey, that once begun leads down a road that’s too nostalgic. It invariably leads to sad emotions that I’d prefer to not indulge. It does show a rich lifetime of family times, travel, holidays and joyful events. The photos allow me to visit people who were once an important part of my life, now no longer available for one reason or another or sometimes for no reason I can state.  They just faded away.

Were my eyebrows really once that full and dark? Gazing at a photo of myself holding my infant children in my arms, I can still feel my daughter’s softness and inhale her sweet baby scent. Those sacred pleasures vanished too quickly. Pangs of times passed too quickly and unconsciously.  Another photo yields a glance of smiling faces at a school graduation. That was long ago, when there were more beginnings and a door closed meant that another door would soon be opening.

home from college, visiting my Dad

Yesterday, I uncovered a long-lost photo of my mother in her 20’s with a man other than my father. She and her gentleman friend looked very happy. I remembered her telling me many years ago that this man was her boyfriend before she met my father. They were close to engagement. And then they weren’t. The road not taken, but still present in my stash of snapshots. Does the gentleman still have a photo of my mom that his children puzzle over?

There are so many photos! My short-term attempts at organization have always run out of steam. I can never throw out enough of them to even make a small dent in their number.  Now they lay, slightly deteriorating by the day, in boxes, albums, and stacks. They give testament to a life and youth gone by. They recall young children, departed relatives, exciting trips to Europe and Japan, important birthdays, a long-lost pet. I want to bring them to life, if only for a brief visit.

The gang in Brooklyn on Halloween Eve, many moons ago!
DSC00501
A gorgeous early summer day near Stockholm.

I almost gasp when looking at photos of a long-ago party at my house, celebrating the visit of Doug Elkins Dance Company in 1998. Everyone was sooo young and so drunk.

Just Married, saying goodbye to parents as we head out for the honeymoon.  1963!

IMG_7535

ranch 2000
New Year’s Eve 1999

I found a photo of my mother with her arms around two of my daughters, probably taken 40 years ago. They all looked relaxed and happy. This photo brought me joy because my mother hated to have her picture taken, consequently, I have few photos of her where she seems happy and looks the way I want to remember her. She died of Alzheimer’s so my last memories of her are painful to recall. This photo helped me make her real and healthy again. The image is now on my desk and in my heart.

P9090289.JPG
My favorite look (for many years)

Thousands of digital photos sit right under my fingertips at my computer’s keyboard. They’re so easily accessible, and visited more frequently. They’re available for immediate recall and better organized.  I imagine that my grandchildren will have no boxes of photos to store.

Once again there came the time to put these memory capsules back in their cupboard.  After writing about them this time, I lovingly put them away, and even managed to feel happy.

IMG_0209
meeting the final grandchild!

How to Find Good Beyond the Evil

This is a complicated holiday season.  The glitter, the shopping and the decorating can feel imposed by the calendar, out of sync with our daily headlines of war, hate, bombings, shootings, election results and humanitarian concerns.

The tendency to feel overwhelmed by all the darkness in the world can easily let the air out of our sense of personal well-being.  It can suck the air out of conversations. It can lead to isolation and depression. Many I know seem compelled to relive the results of our November election, looking to place blame, as if that somehow could change the outcome. I don’t have all the answers, nor do the pundits, as far as I can tell.  Maybe history will inform us. It’s the same in trying to understand how the world has stood by watching the suffering in Syria.

I do sense that all the toxicity is becoming toxic in itself.  It can lead to an obsession with “news” and with social media. It’s not far downhill to pessimism and cynicism.  There is a steep personal cost in holding on to the disappointment and rage.

me-and-natana

This morning, when I opened Facebook, I was greeted by a photo of myself taken a few  years ago, dancing with my youngest granddaughter.  My heart melted. I thought THIS is the kind of thing that I need to keep in front of me. I was tuned into NPR. Randomly, the program I “needed ” to hear turned out to be a compelling discussion on KQED’s Forum  about The Book of Joy, Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

 The message from the two giants of the spiritual world is that one must look at the arc of time during difficult times like these.  This period is an aberration.  If it were normal human behavior, we wouldn’t find it so disturbing.

Both men, coming from very different traditions, despite their incredibly difficult journeys, kept stressing the goodness of humanity.  After finding myself so moved by the photo I saw this morning, I immediately agreed.

At the risk of sounding like a Rogers and Hammerstein play,

Think mother and family love, the bonds of friendship, the arts, nurses, doctors, teachers, the White Hats in Syria, philanthropy.  If this isn’t enough, bring home the most beautiful flower you can find and place it in a vase where you’ll be able to appreciate it, watch a snowfall, find a friend who makes you laugh so hard you cry, watch the clouds change color at dusk, bake cookies and distribute them after eating several, surprise a long lost friend with a phone call, play with a puppy…well you get my gist.

white-hats

If none of that helps, you have my permission to indulge in your drink or drug of choice and have a long cry in your beer.

Is A Picture is Still Worth…?

Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. Dorothea Lange

We are living at a time when our lives are flooded with photographs, unlike any time that’s come before it.  The Iphone has made us all amateur photographers and social media has given us the venues to display our masterpieces anywhere and anytime we like, leading to the illusion that what we’re sharing has significant value.  It may or may not.

Today photography has become a global cacophony of freeze-frames. Millions of pictures are uploaded every minute. Correspondingly, everyone is a subject, and knows it—any day now we will be adding the unguarded moment to the endangered species list.  National Geographic

I started out with a Brownie camera, the first low quality, low cost black and white snapshot camera for the masses.

brownie

I only took pictures on special occasions. The few photos I still have from that period are  2″ black and white square box images of a young girl entering adolescence, indicating that someone else took them. No selfies then!  Looking at the images, I can recall the places they were taken, but almost nothing of myself at that time.  I know it’s me, but maybe only because I’ve seen the photos all my life?

When I was a young teen ager, I was thrilled to win an early Polaroid camera at a bingo game. You’d have thought I’d won the lottery, I was so excited. It was a heavy and bulky instrument, but it encouraged me to take many more photos, even though the pictures had to be coated and ultimately faded anyway.  Instant gratification is a powerful motivator.

polaroid

When I began to travel to Japan in the 1980’s, I desperately wanted to record the images around me. Inspiration was everywhere. I’d return home with up to ten rolls of film, and rush to the drug store to have them developed.  Each new camera promised an easier time and a better photo. The number of print images I developed before digital came along, became overwhelming.

I never was interested in getting into the mechanics of photography, so when the iPhone became an increasingly capable partner in recording life as it passes by, I jumped on the bandwagon.  Now, I rarely use a camera.  Too lazy.

I have 13,704 photos on Iphoto, most of which are just parked. Out of these thousands, some do manage to stand out, by telling me something about our world, or something about myself, or some combination of the two.

I  think we’re probably as numbed by words as photos; it all contributes to the cacophony of too many talking heads, too many opinions, and too much nonsense.

Acknowledging  all this, I nevertheless thought it might be fun, as an alternative to writing every blog, to share photos that mean something to me at this point in my life.

It’s interesting to consider, what still resonates for me? Why?  What will remain of these life pixels after I’m gone?

I’m going to begin with some random photos of important couples in my life.  I’ll keep the chit chat to a minimum.

Below, is a photo of my maternal great grandmother, whom I never knew.  I wonder about  her life. If we could talk to each other, what would she tell me? My mom told me that as a child she’d have to go over to her house and stay with her during thunderstorms, because she was terrified of them. Just noticed, our curly hair must have come from her!

IMG_7532

IMG_7536

The wedding portrait of my maternal grandmother and grandfather.  She was in my life for the first 12 years of it.  I never knew my grandfather, although I know my mother adored him.  My grandmother was a seamstress, made her wedding dress and sewed all the clothes worn by her 7 children. She bears a striking resemblance to my mother and Amy Winehouse.

 

IMG_7531

My Mom and Dad in Puerto Rico on their honeymoon in 1938. Other than this photo, I have no memory of them looking so youthful or quite so carefree!

 

IMG_7535

My husband and me, just before our engagement, Miami Beach Florida, 1963.  Looks like the beginning of the op art period, judging from my bathing suit, and my hair was still being teased, judging from the volume of it.  As for the sunglasses, wish I still had them.  Danny’s swimwear, is of course, timeless.  It’s now 53 years later.  Still love him!

IMG_7534

My Dad with his first great grandchild.  I remember being thrilled when he got to meet her, but saddened as well, because it was close to the end of his life.  He never got to meet my other grandkids, but I am grateful we had this moment.

 

Dorothea Lange

 “One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.”

 “A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”