Introspections & Retrospections

Photographs, Portraits, Pictures and the Panorama of Life

I still remember it. The flood had receded; my siblings and I went about silently, cleaning the house from the mud, dirt and trash. That’s when I noticed with much regret the thing that we forgot to bring or place in safety: our family albums. Not only the albums, but all the film negatives as well. All the captured moments since our childhood, all those frozen memories waiting to be unthawed in the warmth of remembrance— all gone.

Nowadays, I just browse through a lot of photos. Photographs of puppies and kittens and a multitude of other adorable things. Images of delicious food, of awe-inspiring places, of countless vanities. Portraits of loving families and caring friends; and once too often, of faces vaguely familiar.

And somewhere, once in a while, a stolen/accidental photo of me— or some digital memoribilia to which my online social profile is tagged.

I hate photos.

Don’t get me wrong: I love photography. I love that art of sneaking on to someone, something, and in their most unguarded moment— snap a picture. I love the challenge of capturing the moment: the unheard emotions and the sounds flattened on a lifeless picture, giving it perpetual vitality with each glance and smile. I love the science of getting just the right lighting, just the right timing, to fully encapsulate the vibrance of nature, of life— compressing the entire stretch of our existence to that infinitesimal triviality that unfairly sums up who and what we are.

Yes, I love the authenticity of a beautiful picture. And I hate the hypocrisy that a wonderful photograph tries to hide.

Photographs are both true and false. It tells us that memories can last, and rightly so. But it also deceives us that memories last, and sadly: no. Ask the broken-hearted for a picture of their past beloved, and you’ll understand. Was the love that was portrayed in the photograph any less real than during the time it was taken? Ask the broken family for their last smiling family portrait. Was their family less sincere in that very captured moment? That’s why I hate pictures— for it holds power to conjure tears as much as it can draw a smile. Nothing lasts, and still some photographs do— and in this contradiction, we can only helplessly wonder why we can’t choose the memories we want to keep or throw away.

That’s why I guess I’ve started to hate being part of a picture, both in the literal and the figurative sense.

Because often, remembering hurts like hell. And in those dejected moments, having no memories at all would be a bliss.

I find myself often trapped, chained, to the gravitational memory of a photograph. As if it draws me to long for what was— yet sometimes, oftentimes, it is impossible. We all know we can’t bring back the past. Nor can we try to recreate it, to rebuild it, as if some bonds are jigsaw pieces. Yes, it’s simple to put the puzzle together, but we realize too late that there will always be a missing piece, and that’s a sliver of our heart.

Yet, some images do inspire. Like seeing your graduation photos, and being reminded of who you once were, who you once aspired to be. And knowing it’s never too late. Like accidentally finding a candid portrait of your family, and with emotions beyond expression, your heart swells with an encouragement that no words can compare with. Like stumbling across a random panorama of the world— the skies and stars and all the natural wonders of the world, and realizing how all our troubles and personal angst and frustrations suddenly seem ridiculous in that smirking face of eternity.

I don’t know if I still belong in anyone’s picture. I wish I am. I wish I could be. Maybe I’m just photobombing through life, trying to be part of portraits I shouldn’t be in. Maybe I’m just accidentally walking in the foreground or background of all those group photos, or get awkwardly dragged in them for the civility of it. I hate photos of myself.

But I will trust My Great Photographer— that with His knowing hands, that in that fateful flash of life, I would someday find myself in a family portrait where I will truly belong: an eternal photograph that time won’t be able to fade, a picture that not only speaks of my past but points me to the future, a panorama that stretches far beyond my imagination forever.

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