remembrance n. the action of remembering something
Rosemary is for remembrance. I know this because we gave out small potted plants of rosemary as favors at my wedding. I’m coming up on my 11th wedding anniversary so it’s fitting that I chose this word. There was quite a drama over our photographs that day and although it is almost laughable now, 11 years later, I still have the same hang ups about photos. Photographs are totems of remembrance. When I think of this word, I recall the scent of musty photo albums and boxes of photographs all curled together in stacks that you peel apart, revealing a moment, a second in infinite time, long forgotten. When I find these boxes in the back of a closet, I could sit for hours sifting through them, looking at the people and trying to remember them. Remember the smells, the noises, the feeling of that polyester cat face sweatshirt I was wearing at that birthday party in the 5th grade. What I notice most, though, are that most of the photos, the best ones, are not posed, arm-over-shoulder -types. They’re more candid, casual, in the moment. These in my opinion are the very best photos.
Photos are sacred to me and so is the act of taking them. My father was a photographer and I lived amongst his Hasselblads and Minoltas and all their accoutrements which existed in the time before digital. You used to have to work much harder to take a photo back then. You had to know how to manually focus a lens. Just getting the roll of film into the camera was difficult because you could expose it, let alone the difficulties of developing it. There was a sense of waiting that used to exist when you took a photo. If you went on a trip you would have to sometimes wait weeks to see how your photos came out, praying that you at least got one or two good ones. Taking photos required patience, perseverance, and sometimes, luck alone. I remember all of my cameras with nostalgia. My first camera was a purple Le Clic that I got as a gift for my very first trip without my parents to Washington DC with my girl scout troop. My favorite camera was my pink Polaroid that I would bring to school and sneak photos of everyone with, especially my secret crushes. My most treasured is my father’s manual Minolta 35mm he gave to me when I wanted to “get serious” and I struggled with it for a good while learning how to use it, getting used to its ticks. These days I wield a 6 year old Nikon D60 digital camera. I like to switch it to manual and make myself work for my photos just to see if I remember all that my father taught me.
A month or so ago we took my son to an Easter egg hunt at our parish. When we arrived there weren’t many people there and my son was hell bent and determined to eat as many of the free munchkins he could grab. But as people arrived rapidly I began to notice something that really bothered me. Instead of letting the children roam and play, their parents were grouping them together in front of things and taking posed photos….dozens and dozens of posed photos – in front of brick walls, next to trees, with friends, with family, with the creepy girl/guy in the Easter bunny costume…constant clicking and so little living in the moment. It made me sad to see that they were ruining the natural beauty of children just having fun.
It set me to thinking about how we remember moments and how photographs stand for so much. Wouldn’t a picture be worth so much more if it captured the intangible seconds of time that aren’t perfectly set or posed? A photo should be a queue for the memory – an icon that sets our brains wild with memory, filling in the gaps that the photo doesn’t show. And so what if we remember it not so perfectly? Remembrance isn’t something you can hold in your hands anyway. The beauty of a photo is its ability to capture a second of time forever for you to return to whenever you want. With such power why would you choose to control it with posing, standing, and rigid smiles? You miss so much living with incessant clicking and directing. Life isn’t a movie, its life – breathing, screaming and laughing living. If a photo is blurry it’s because it should be.
There is a photo of my wedding that was taken on the porch of the house we rented for our reception. It’s a huge photo of my husband’s entire family with us, the happy couple. I don’t think I’ve looked at it since I received it from a family member shortly after the wedding. Months before I had specifically asked that the posed photography be kept to a minimum. We felt very strongly about it, but despite my wishes on my wedding day, the gathering still occurred. If it had been the only instance, I wouldn’t have cared. But it wasn’t. A few guests even stood next to the actual hired photographer and took the same pictures he was taking. It doesn’t make me sad any more that this happened. To be honest, I was not at all surprised. Yet sitting next to the rosemary plants on each table were disposable cameras for the guests to use to take their own photos of the day. Although many of them are blurred and some of them just didn’t develop, those are my favorite photos – and the ones I cherish above all the posed and professional photos. When you put them all together, they may be blurred and I don’t always look the way I would choose, but you get a sense of how much fun we had that day, how young we all were and how much was going on. They give me many more minutes of remembrance than any posed, family picture. In those blurs and imperfections, I let my memories step in and fill in the spaces between. That’s what a good photo should do.
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.