I was having lunch with a friend the other day. He mentioned that he had a cherished family photo that he wanted to hang in his home. He also had a frame that he loved. The problem was that the photo and the frame were not compatible as is; to use that frame, he was going to have to cut down the photo. My friend wasn’t sure that cutting down the photo was a good idea. He mentioned his dilemma to another friend who asked why he was worried about trimming the photo. It was his photo and had no value to anyone but him. If he wanted to cut it down to fit into a particular frame so that he could enjoy it, then by all means do it. He was the only one that could and would find meaning in that photo so however he wanted it is how it should be.
This conversation between my friend and me took place during a break in a day on which I was going through box after box of papers, scrapbooks, and photos that I brought back from my parents and grandparents house. To say that I was overwhelmed is putting it lightly. Ninety-nine percent of the memorabilia that lay before me had absolutely no intrinsic value to me. There were photos of people that I couldn’t identify and there is no one left who can. I didn’t even save my own high school scrapbook so I certainly had no inclination to save my mother’s. Newspaper clippings, programs from events that I’m sure were monumental at the time, receipts, and the list goes on…lots and lots of stuff…I was buried in it, literally and figuratively. I needed to dig myself out. But how? One by one, I made sure that I put my hands and eyes on every single piece of paper that I had. As I sat in the midst of it all feeling extremely guilty because of my strong desire to toss most of it, a most freeing realization came to me. These are not MY memories. If they are not my memories, they aren’t going to be girls’ memories either. Therefore, I don’t need to keep everything. I went through and saved pictures and a few other things for myself and for my girls, but I threw a whole lot more away. And, I feel good about that. I must add here that, judging by the thickness of the layer of dirt and dust on the many boxes and photo albums, no one had looked at them in many, many years. No longer is my guest room a repository for the unnecessary, a museum that no one is going to visit. This room is now a place where guests can actually stay and hopefully feel comfortable.
This whole experience caused me to do a hefty bit of rumination and reflection surrounding my thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Here is what I learned about myself:
I very much live in the present. Not the past. Not the future.
I am not a keeper or collector…of anything (except Lego mini figures. But, I use them; they have a real and present purpose in my life.)
There are very few tangible things to which I have an emotional attachment.
Things are meant to be seen, used, and enjoyed. They serve no purpose “saved” in boxes in a closet.
The memories that I have are the memories that I have. Simple as that. The few pictures and such that I saved help to spark these memories, but they themselves are not the memories. True memories reside in our heads and hearts.
As I went through the years and years of accumulated stuf, I vowed that I was not going to leave that kind of onerous undertaking for my girls. That is one of the reasons that I was so determined to go through all of the boxes sooner rather than later. I did find myself wondering if someday will my children and/or grandchildren will be sitting in the middle of the floor somewhere feeling guilt about throwing my photos away? I certainly hope not. For a brief moment, I wondered if taking so many photos myself is a ridiculous waste of time. I snapped out of that mode of thinking fairly quickly realizing that all of those things I mentioned above about myself those things that I mentioned above that I learned about myself also apply to me as a photographer.
I have no problem deleting photos. I will keep only a handful, if that many, of any particular event. This forces me to look mindfully at all of my photos and select the one that best represents my thoughts and feelings at the time. The bottom line…I am called to make intentional choices. And living with intention is my number one priority, not just with regard to photography, but in all aspects of my life.
So that’s my philosophical approach to this whole dilemma.
Now, let’s be practical for a minute.
I am in my fifth year of taking a photo a day. Thus far I have taken 1,485 daily photos. I am 55 years old. The average life expectancy for a woman in the United States born in 1961 is 88. That means that potentially I could have 32 more years taking of a photo a day. That, in addition to the photos I’ve already taken means that I could end up having taken over 12,000 photos. And that’s with keeping only one a day! Oh, and this number doesn’t include any pictures that I took for the first fifty years of my life, as in when my girls were growing up! 🙂 Yeah, there are quite of few of those. How realistic is it to expect anyone to keep all of these pictures? It is not realistic at all! These photos, for the most part are my memories. My family should keep only the ones that have meaning for and speak to them.
I am going to keep taking a photo a day for as long as I possibly can. It is something that I do solely for me. I consider photography as a spiritual discipline. Taking a photo every day invites me to see the presence of the divine in my daily life, even when that life doesn’t really feel or look beautiful. Seeking and acknowledging daily these sometimes fleeting glimpses of beauty also brings enlightenment I am made aware of my internal and external struggles; of people, circumstances, and things for which I am grateful; as well as of things for which I need to offer thoughts of hope and prayer.
And perhaps most importantly, photography brings me joy..
I don’t take photos hoping to impress anyone. I have no desire to become a professional photographer. I take pictures because I love taking pictures. That’s it.
As the familiar mantra says, “Love what you do and do what you love.”
Thank you. I think I will.