Sunday, August 18, 2013

Frame 10

Remembrance of Things Past

Do you have a photograph that resurrects memories of a time and place?
I have one, well, really two pictures that have that effect on me. One of them I took, and the other is a postcard taken before I was born; yet they are related by my memory of different aspects of my relationship with my father.
The one I took is of my dad, Dell, and his wife, Gladys. It was taken at their home at Eagle Lake in California. As you can see, they were standing on the balcony of their house (built by him) that looked out on the lake. Behind them are the hills on the opposite side of the lake, hazy dark lines in the distance. The water to their right is shimmering, a boat dock partially seen on the lower left. It was/is a warm summer day; I always visited them in the summer. My dad has his left arm around Gladys, the other casually extended and resting on the railing. They are both smiling different smiles.
I don’t remember the day, or even year that I took the picture. It was shot with my Yashica Mat. I know this because it’s square. I know too that I wasn’t a very good photographer because my parents are a bit dark and the background is a bit washed-out. This small casual souvenir of a picture brings me a heavy sense of loss and regret. My father died young, at 67, and there were too many things that I left unsaid, too absorbed growing into my adult self, and too eager to cut myself free from his apron strings (he was a great cook). This photograph reminds me of that time, that distance I created.
The other photograph is a postcard of the Golden Pagoda in Los Angeles’ Chinatown, that I found at a swap meet. When I saw it the image made me smile. My dad loved all things Chinese, I’m not sure why. When he lived in L.A. and even after he moved, during those visits we would go to that pagoda-shaped restaurant. He knew the manager, a friend, and he enjoyed the food. This postcard reminds me of the wonderful things that I knew and loved about my dad—his generosity, his gregarious nature, the way he embraced life. Both images, ephemeral apparitions of remembrance, are as fragile and vaporous as the paper image they inhabit.
It is strange to me that the photograph that I’m connected with, the one I took, the one that showed me how close (proximity) I was to my dad is the one that is a rueful reminder. I’m ashamed to say that I was there, but really wasn’t there. The other photo, taken by another person, was of a place filled for me with sounds, smells, tastes and conversations related to dad. That place is still there. I can go to it and walk inside, but it has become an empty shell without his presence. They are two pictures of the way things were, existing now only in feelings—of regret and happiness.

Tell me what you think

Frame 10A
“A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence. Like a wood fire in a room, a photograph—especially those of people, of distant landscapes and faraway cities, of the vanished past—are incitements to reverie.” Susan Sontag, On Photography


  1. Hi Larry,
    Ive been reading your blog this morning. This is a beautiful post. And I thank you for sharing this. It reminds me to be present, in the moment. listen to people, especially loved ones. I myself am still trying to figure out my adultness. it's a task that creates the distance you speak of, and sometimes it is hard to find a balance between the need to detach and the need to commune. I realize as I get older that time with my family is precious. That I don't necessarily need to detach fully to find my adult self. Thanks for the food for thought.

  2. Hey Larry,
    This post has a great effect on me. I have several photos where I can recall exactly what was going on and who was there and when I took it and sometimes I look back at those old photos and I miss things about that time. Depends the photo, but I understand that gap and being wrapped in adultness and not fully appreciating what's in front of you until it's gone. I'm still trying to figure out my adultness without making a distance with the ones I love. Great food for thought.


  3. There is one picture I have that is somewhat the opposite in that it’s of me, but it doesn’t trigger memories of the time that it was taken, but instead provides a different perspective. Memories of my early childhood are fleeting, as are most people’s from around three or four years old, so pictures of that time feel like they’re of someone else or some other life. One photo is of my father and I dressed almost identically – boots, jeans, hat, puffy vest – only I’m about three feet shorter than him. It’s a candid shot of us walking away towards a barn with him holding my hand and looking down at me. It’s a sweet picture that survived the loss of a box of photos in flood ages ago, so it’s been cherished in a frame on one of the walls of every house my mother or I have lived in since. My father and I have had a contentious relationship, and we have grown apart as people, becoming very different over the years. There were a lot of signs that he in many ways wanted me to be another version of him, so in the context of years of other memories and experiences, the photo serves as early evidence of that fact and brings up memories of arguments over the years. For my mother, it’s just a cute picture of me. The phenomena of seeing historical records of your own life is disorienting without the context of memory. Some of that feeling definitely comes from the fact that I didn’t take a lot of pictures in my early life, so the ones that exist are from someone else’s perspective. Recently, I experienced a similar phenomenon with someone’s picture of me. Normally when my picture is taken, I’m by myself or in the back row so I happen to appear smaller. When someone who was much shorter than me took a shot of my friend and I standing next to each other with a low ceiling overhead, I was surprised that I looked much larger than I feel. I’m often aware of my own height, but I rarely have a sense of my proportions. The ability to reveal things that were there the whole time is one of the things I enjoy about photography.