This summer, at my grandfather’s funeral, there was a similar board of photographs showing the span of his lifetime. They are a record of moments. He posed for some of the shots. In some, he had no idea that a camera was pointed at him. We are different when we know a camera is aiming our way. We put something on, a kind of mask, an attitude or assumption.
The photographs on the board served as a history of technology, black and white to color film, and then a jump to the proliferation of digital images. What was difficult became easy. What used to need chemicals and processing became instantaneous. This capacity to snap photographs and see them in a moment has changed us. Selfies abound! Once, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I watched with fascination as people posed to have their picture taken with Van Gogh’s painting, Starry Night. They rarely looked at the painting. They just knew it was famous and wanted their picture taken with it. They primped. They smiled. They mugged for the camera or looked serious. Proof of life? Just like a handprint on the wall of a cave, those photographs shouted, “I was here!”
We are among the first people in the history of humanity to have this extraordinary window into our lives. I looked at the photo board of H’s wife and saw H at age 30, at age 40, and 50 and 60 and 70, 80, and I know him now at age 90. In the photographs I can see the cocky young man, the father, the achiever, the dreamer, the man who stopped resisting, the surrender,…each phase of his (and his wife’s) life. More to the point, he can see it. He can see the progression.
Two hundred years ago a photographic record of a life span was impossible. No one posed because there was no need. An old man remembered his life but did not have the window to see his path. No one had the opportunity to see the growth and process of age through the phases of their life. It changes us. And, it is a sword that cuts both ways. We can see. We can record. We can story ourselves like no other time in history. We can be known to future generations. We can talk to the future and the future can hear us. We were here. We had something to say. We had so much to share, so many rich experiences of living! And, we can miss our moment in the recording of it.
Kerri asked H what was his favorite photograph on the wall and he laughed and said, “I don’t know. We had happy times. Look at how much I weighed back then!”
“You need to eat more, H!” Kerri admonished and gave him a hug. He began to cry.
“I’m trying,” he said, laughing through tears. “I think I just need to drink more Frosties!”