Photo Essay

Photogenic

Hey Hey Hey

This past week i spent arduous hours sitting in my office chair with an assembly line feel of a printer, photos, keyboard and mouse. Efficiently placing the pictures on the glass, manipulating the software, saving the items, discarding the used photos and grabbing the next samples. Once i got started it was hard to stop as i saw the large stack disappear like a pile of all you can eat pancakes at IHOP.

I scanned in over 1000 photos from my life, a life which at times I had momentarily forgotten. Through visual evidence it also proved I had done things, been places, met people that have not etched any memories on my brain whatsoever, like someone had conspiratorially photo shopped me into these memories to set me up as a patsy, like LHO with his guns, for some future crime.

The photos have been lugged around in a ripped plastic bag in no real order, a spontaneous collage of images being tossed around like lotto balls before the lucky number was picked. I reached into the bag, eyes closed and pulled out a picture. There i was, three years old, clutching an old gray plush toy pillow--The photo had a glossy sheen to it and super soft light telling the spectator that this image was special and meant to be admired. I reached in the bag and pulled out another and there i was with my Nana and grandpa on my back patio--my Nana dressed in a loud yellow and pink flowered pattern shirt with solid pink pants. It was the type of fashion I've never seen worn elsewhere at anytime in history, but it worked on her. Did all of England's mature ladies wear such attire? My grandfather's face was lobster red from hours and hours of sunbathing in the south Florida sun, a past time of his that would eventually kill him some years later.

Pictures of me, pictures of mom and me, pictures of dad and me, of my family, of friends--the common thread was they were pictures of people--NOT PLACES. This was an eye opener to me. I have never liked to photograph people at parties and family gatherings, probably because i didnt like to be photographed myself. I liked photographing people when they didnt know they were being captured as i would walk down a cobblestoned street in Prague with camera at my waist, finger on the button ready to click away--the photos a little off center, the centuries old dirty walls with graffiti on them in the background set the stage and the people caught in a snapshot of their life, oblivious to the American tourist making their streets a little more crowded as they struggle to get to work on time.

What i realized is 20 years from now i wont care about this inconsequential person I've photographed in Prague or Shibuya. Maybe from an artistic aesthetic aspect, but pictures of sweeping landscapes and mountains, the expanse of a endless blue sea, the architecture of some anonymous catholic church looking like all the rest--these aren't the photos I'd want to scan and cherish. It's my family and friends. It's the reassurance i need living 3000 miles away from everyone else that i was part of something, where i was loved and treasured--and that I still am--It's my family. I've got a great family and it's easy to forget them when wrapped up in the minutia of my daily life--It is also a reminder that i was a good looking baby and young kid. The cutest kid i've ever seen--that is something to be proud of ;)~

This is not to say i won't run out to Anza Borrego in a few weeks hunting for wildflowers set in the proper light, with the proper sky and a mountainous background that i can admire for a few minutes and store on my hard drive with the other thousands of floral photos I've taken. I will. It is also a great excuse to buy a new camera, one that is sleek and small, with millions of megapixels for such occasions.

I look at my wedding pictures often. I love them, not just because i'm in them, but they explode on the screen to me. The colors, the smiles, the fashion. It is the beginning of a new life. The starting point for our family and i don't want to miss a moment.

I thank my mom for taking many of these pics, keeping them and stuffing them in a bag in the closet for me to find like priceless sunken treasure. I have a friend who has what he calls "the wall of shame"--its a chronlogical wall of photos, framed and in order looking at life's evolution of this human being. I think it is quite extraordinary--and maybe at times embarrassing, it is undoubtedly never forgotten--and that is the point of taking pictures--to never forget who we are, where we came from, and where we've been--but more importantly who was with us at the time.

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4 responses

  • ajtiM

    ajtiM (Deleted) said (13 Dec 2011):

    Very good story and choice of pictures!

  • Tracey Smith

    Tracey Smith said (13 Dec 2011):

    Love this poignant reflection, especially him discovering all those pics in a plastic bag for him to find. I always cringed, too, at those never-ending, sometimes horrifying mom-shots. Whether painfully posed or even more painfully candid, those images do seem to form the bulk of my children memories, as well.

  • Donald Smithee

    Donald Smithee (Deleted) said (13 Dec 2011):

    Good stuff, Pete!

  • Donald Smithee

    Donald Smithee (Deleted) gave props (13 Dec 2011):

    Great essay; wonderful photos...

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