The Family Snapshot, Our Personal Historical Thread

May 01, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

On the table in front of me sits a photograph. More accurately, a snapshot made in haste, a record of an event only vaguely remembered. This particular photograph has power, it stirs emotion and memories. This past April, it has been 12 years since my Dad passed from this life. Yet, there is his face, frozen in that fraction of a second shutter speed moment. As long as that photograph exists that moment remains very real. We all have snapshots of loved ones. All of us have experienced that instant when we've casually flipped over a snapshot, and felt a rush of emotion, and a longing to be with a loved one long gone. This is magic. Even though I understand the process of making a photograph, even after all these years, it is still magical. A recent visit to an Antique shop brings me to a corner where a table holds piles of snapshots. On this table lie memories, dreams, love, loss, and celebration. These are orphan photographs to be sure. Unknown faces stare out at the future with their best clothing and stiff formal poses.

 

Some have short notes written on the back, or even across the image, "Aunt Elizabeth at Niagara Falls". I study the image to try to age the scene, looking for an automobile, or perhaps dated clothing to set the year. More importantly, I wonder how did so many snapshots become unwanted enough to land on this table. Maybe even now there are family members wishing they could have saved the pictures from this fate. Looking into the faces captured in silver is fascinating to me. Their eyes might offer a clue for me to look deeper into this slice of history. So many contain formal stiffly posed adults, with a young distracted child looking off camera. Others have black paper stuck to the back, this photo once sat in an album. They are proof of a history unknown to me. Here is one of a young couple on a beach, looking happy and relaxed. Were they both happy with their relationship? Endless photos of Christmas gift opening, and holiday feasts. How good was that wonderful Turkey sitting center table?

 

This table in the back corner holds so many strands of history that seem to be lost. Every once in a while I'll come across a photo of a place I recognize. It's Time Square take a look! I scan closely all the store fronts, buildings, and cars to place the year. So much has changed, yet some things are recognizable. They dressed so formal back then. These days we are much more casual about our dress code. A shot of Yankee Stadium shows almost all the men in the stands in suit and tie. The more I browse the more fascinated I become. Then there are photographs of the great war. The conflict that killed more humans than any other, WWII. Some battlefield photos are scattered and mixed with homecoming enlisted men. Mothers and Fathers with ear to ear smiles for a returning son. One table holds the human experience.

 

This table holds a treasure of experience that is orphaned, disconnected, and out of context. They are lost to the people that could give them their true meaning. I keep wondering why and how? Here's a wild thought, could software and facial recognition match people and families? It would be a monumental task. I read that after violent storms and other natural disasters, some people gather scattered photos and post them so others can find them. At the very least we should protect our documented history. It might be a good idea to dig out that box of snapshots once a year and have some fun with the kids. Its a good laugh and bitter sweet trip through the box. Best of all, us older family members can place context and meaning for the younger ones. The historical thread can remain connected from past to present. Another thought fascinates me, these rushed, casually snapped photos are given more meaning as time passes. The instant when the shutter is released, passed so quickly, little thought to personal history came to mind. Hindsight gives meaning and value to the family snapshot.


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