On Photography and Memory Keeping

Last week I did a little day in the life photography project as a small-scale version of the week in the life project that so many of my favorite bloggers do. I have been thinking about it a lot in the past few days, and it has led to some really interesting realizations. The whole series of revelations begins with a paradox: I am not a scrapbooker, and I never have been one. I don’t know, maybe it was because my awesome Besfrinn had it totally covered back when we were in high school. She made such beautiful and creative books; I was always in awe of them, and maybe living through her glory made me content to just snap a picture here and there and throw old movie ticket stubs in a box in the closet.

But part of the reason why I decided to the do the day in the life project was that I felt like I hadn’t been taking enough pictures. Sure, I snap away when I am cooking or working on a project, but I didn’t find a lot of time in my busy workday to look for things: a perfect flame-colored leaf, the shadow of a songbird on the sidewalk. So, last Wednesday, I made a real effort to see and to take pictures.

The thing is, honestly, I didn’t have to try too hard. I had the day off, so there was plenty of time to devote to aesthetic pursuits. And I am so glad I have those pictures, and those memories of the day.

It was only when I started looking at others’ day in the life photos, though, that I realized something more profound. Here were pictures of women washing their faces in the morning, children stepping onto the bus, piles of textbooks and a sack lunch, cars packed on freeways in an evening commute. Whoa. There is so much beauty in all of this. A light bulb went off in my head, and I was immediately inspired to try to capture as much of my busy workday routine as I can. Not just those pretty shots of afternoon light settling over a cup of tea, but pictures of the stereo in my car (set to full blast!) as I ease my way out of the garage in the morning, the materials I work with during the day (often a mess, albeit a beautiful one), the smile on my face when I get to read and respond to blog comments in the evening. There is such tremendous wisdom in this practice, and I am so grateful to have gleaned it from these wonderful bloggers and scrapbookers. Here it is: even what we see as the most ordinary of the ordinary, the most mundane of the mundane in our daily lives, will one day be beyond our grasp, receding into the distance of our memories. Even moments to which we assign no particular value, whether because they occur so frequently or because they do not appear to be significant, will one day be treasures to us.

I have long trained myself to look for the extraordinary hidden in the quotidian, and I find (gratefully) that even the slightest bit of mindfulness will lead me in that direction. But what this project has shown me is that there is so much more beauty to be found in the quotidian, more than I could ever have imagined. A few weeks ago, I might have thought that documenting all the ordinary events of an average workday would not be too interesting. But as I looked through these blogs of other memory keepers, it didn’t take me long to realize the profound significance of the everyday. I lived in the Bay area for 7 years. For 7 years, I took the same bus to campus, passed the same shops and cafes, wore a path into our hallway on my way to check my mailbox or fetch something from my office. What I wouldn’t give now to have just one day’s worth of photos of a daily life that is now a thing of the past. Wow. It was a powerful revelation. Instead of making me sad for memories lost, however, this revelation made me excited about preserving the moments that make up my daily life today. I know that someday I’ll look back on these pictures from our first year of marriage and from my first job after finishing school as treasures. I am so grateful that digital cameras make the cost of this form of memory keeping almost non-existent. Every moment is precious. Every moment is fleeting. All the more reason to rejoice in the ones we can capture, the ones we can carry with us.

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