I have an empty photo frame that has been hanging on our stairway wall for three years. Every now and then, my daughter will ask why I haven’t put any photos in it. Until now, I could honestly say “I have no idea!”
It’s not like we don’t have photos in frames all over the house. We have tons of them. All happy, smiling faces of our family at different points in our lives—soon after J. was born, at the beach, us beaming and her peering out from her Baby Bjorn with an expression both concerned and nearsighted. A posed family Christmas photo when J. was about 6 and S. was a toddler, where only I noticed the slight yellowish bruise on her cheek from the latest episode of S.’s “enthusiastically throwing board books” phase. In front of the Eiffel Tower, the week after Princess Diana died, long before we had any idea how full and chaotic the next 20 years would be.
I kind of felt like, “been there, done that” in the hanging photos department. But the stairway wall was bare, and needed something. So up went the photo frame, and there it sat. Somehow filling it with more of the same types of photos didn’t seem right. This frame should have its own special type of photos.
Recently I was transferring photos from an old hard drive to my laptop, and it struck me: The photos that I found most poignant were the ones taken from the back. Photos that spoke to me not through the expressions on the subjects’ faces, but their poses, their posture, their surroundings. The photos where no one felt obligated to create a “hey we’re having fun” face, but were simply going about their business, thinking who knows what.
Here’s one of my favorites: A perfect late spring day, after coming home from a joint birthday party for both kids. He was three, she was seven. We had to explain to S. what a pinwheel was, but he was fascinated. He didn’t let go of that pinwheel the rest of the afternoon. Here he’s taking a breather and watching the rest of the kids running and doing cartwheels in the yard. Who knows what was going through his head? Not knowing, I’m free to make up stories about what could have been happening in the photo.
Here’s another one–walking to our first ride on the Tower of Terror (and many more to come):
And there are more:
Even though I know the back story (sorry, pun really wasn’t intended but I like it so I’m keeping it) for all these photos—after all, I was always the photographer—it makes me happy to think that they could have been telling any number of stories. I can make up new ones to match them if I want. There are no faces or expressions to prove me wrong.
Which reminds me of something I sometimes think about: What are the stories of the people who randomly appear in your family photos? What were they doing at that moment? I know what we were doing, but their narrative was completely different that day. And come to think of it, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to locate all the family photos that YOU have randomly appeared in? Those photos alone could tell the entire story of your life, in no particular order.
But that’s a whole separate line of musing that I’ll get into later.
J. and I finally took that empty photo frame off the wall and filled it with a crooked collage of our favorite photos. It took some wrestling (“Aw man, now there’s a HAIR between the two pieces of glass! Ok, take it apart again.”), but now it accurately represents us: Not perfect, a little askew, slightly messy, memories overlapping, mostly happy.