Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Power of Pictures, Perspective from Behind the Viewfinder.

My son is in high school. He’s a senior. There are a lot of things you do when your son is a senior. You wonder where the time went. You wonder (and fear) what’s next. You find yourself overcome with pride and anticipation (at least you do if your son is half as great as mine). You alternately cheer and weep and sometimes do both at the same time. One thing you do no matter what is you reminisce.

Last night Angela and I sat down and started going through old pictures to pick some for Mitch’s yearbook page. (A quasi obligatory thing overly sentimental parents do these days for their kids). We were looking for a few baby pictures and a few growing up pictures that can be ‘collaged’ together with a statement that more or less reads, ‘good luck we’re proud of you.’

The images brought back memories. Remember when ... Some were very funny. Like the pictures of Mitch with the colander on his head. It was alternately an army helmet, cowboy hat, cool hat, etc. He had other hats, but he preferred the colander. (stainless steal with uniform holes and a long handle). Some were sentimental. First day of school, ever. A family tradition was to walk to Fremont Elementary. That family tradition started that day. What will his last day be like? Some brought tears. Pictures of Mitchell playing with his beloved Auntie Rene who we lost to cancer, too young.

Going through these pictures is in a real way like going back through his life. I still love watching the Kodak ad, now on YouTube, where the guy asks the kids if he can hear the pictures. I can. I can hear them and smell them. I remember if it was warm or cold. They’re like two dimensional time machines for my mind. I never get tired of looking at pictures.

I’m not in most. In fact, in our total family collection, images that include my “visage” make up less than 5%. (Some would say ‘thank God’ and I’m one of them). But in a weird way I’m actually in almost all of them. I’m behind the camera. I’m looking through the viewfinder. I wonder if these images speak so clearly to me because they are what I saw? They are where I was. I wonder if they can ever be as powerful for someone who is simply in them? Perhaps.

But I wonder if a non-photographer can ever really appreciate a photograph the way a photographer can. It isn’t to say that I am somehow better. It is only to say that the experience for me is different. I can’t look at an image without experiencing it through the viewfinder. It’s the way my brain wants me to see what is in front of my eyes. My perception is dictated by my habit or my hobby or whatever you want to call what photography is for me.

No matter how these images of my sons are seen I am grateful to have them all. Someday I will want to sit and page through them again and remember again. They are who he was and they are also who he is and in some small way they are who he will be, at least to me. Weird year.


Suzanne Tenuto said...

What a great post - got me teary-eyed. And I don't even have kids yet!

Monty Jessop said...

I'm with ya Jim, I'm a parent of teenagers.
My oldest is two years out of High School and the twins will be Seniors next year.
Where has the time gone?
Thank goodness for the images to take us back.
I totally get your perspective, as you could guess I've usually been the picture taker and many images are emblazoned in the memory banks.

Thanks, Jim

Jeff Cleveland said...

Nicely put, Jim. This is totally how I felt when I was looking for football pictures for my post on Monday. Thanks for sharing.

Linda said...

Just the way I felt last year with my daughter being a senior--grateful to have such a great kid, yet sad she's leaving and often thinking back of all of the memories we shared together and also dreading that she'll be off on a life of her own now (yet happy for her, too).

As the photographer, we do look back and picture ourselves in the pictures and memories even if we're not in many of them.