Recently, I started to entertain myself into being a slop-shop of a photographer. I commented the other night to my mother how in our family drawers’ of secrets, there’s probably collectively a 7 foot stack of photo albums, the ones still here and the ones that have laid unopened for half a decade back in our home country. I realized at some point when I used to flip through those photos that there was almost always one person missing. Not absent, no, because surely enough he held the camera steady. He was generous in picking the scenery and making the woman, my mother, in the photos look great. If only amateurishly in her young uncertainty in life, evident in the strictness of her smooth face, the black pearled, almost-vacant eyes. Just a young couple.
“He never did like taking pictures himself.”
I suppose never again will there be such a person in our life today that would not have some form of photographic autobiography throughout their life – even downright to their day to day most likely. When I think too deeply into the issue, it seems too solemn to comment that the age-old scarcity of these old photographs will never be reproduced in any shape or form. I can print out a hundred stacks of album and still not resurrect the same sweetness of something belonging only to a past generation.
My father has been gone for 7 years now, and I do believe there is a certain bittersweetness of someone who does not have much of a visual past. Beguiling at most, but somehow I’d much prefer to hear from my mother’s memory of those days.
How did people before us capture their life? Or did they understand the universal law of nature’s evasiveness and simply learned to adore a natural beauty when they could come upon it and imprint in their minds something they can only try to explain to the next generation. Somehow, late nights were the time when my father would tell me stories of his past. All the unbelievable, lousy pranks him and his young friends had pulled. Throwing ink into their professor’s dorm room and blaming no one but the wind. Driving down a fresh highway at 210km/hr in a rickety old car. Their shared Golden Retriever that made his own run everyday and came back to permanently mark their apartment door to be let in. Sporadically in those stories, there may be a rare old photograph of rebellious young youths to put a face to the characters. As much as I thought I would naturally marvel at their environment first, you find you only need to look at their faces and it spoke to you more of any detail in their life than their clothing or to the backdrop of the photo. Man, they were alive.
So when I thought of all this, I thought of the reason why I would cry looking at those photos. The rarity of them seems so confounding. I’ll capture moments in time today, in which they will only ever exist in the loading memories of my phone, and I’ll never come to think about it. That is, until the day I switch to a new one. It isn’t even so much as taking photos of everywhere you go and what you do. My father had a certain touch in which though he hardly ever showed his face, you knew his presence. Subtle. As if he had charmed those days to be something worthwhile 50 years from now. Those are some moments that when I tell my future children, they may come up with their own imagination of the man he was. And when we pass along those same awkward faces, we all try to seam up our previous accord of them to the actual record. They then take on a humorous turn into a sort of dreamscape, being so easy to manipulate in our minds. Certainly, we will never be able to tap into each others mental images as we do to photography and just show you exactly how it was. It is precisely those fickle moments in time that never repeat quite the same.
“I have seized the light. I have arrested its flight.” – Louis Daguerre 1839