Is it the mists of time? the sands of time? One suggests a lack of clarity as we look back; the other, of unstoppable passage. Either one will play havoc on a camera, but they also do a number on our minds. It's like our own personal Uncertainty Principle: if we dig deeply into one, we know less about the other.
I'm brought to this odd rambling by the news of my mother's passing in the early hours this morning. Though not unexpected (she was near 93, bless her heart) it was nonetheless a tearful reunion with my memories. And a precious few old pictures. I heard a talk by a philosopher a while back who suggested that we don't really remember the past, but instead we recall our memories of the past, and that each new recollection builds upon many layers of increasing imperfection. So of course I think of photographs.
There are a handful of photos from my mother's childhood, like the one above (she's the cutie on the right). Someone in the family -- an eccentric uncle, perhaps -- must have had a folding Kodak or something because there are a few lovely old images. There's even a photo of my grandmother and her brothers taken shortly after their arrival here from Mexico, probably around 1916 or so. But of my father's family, there are almost none, so the stories of their lives in the old Pacific Northwest, and even earlier in Canada, have no snapshots to freshen recollections. Sad indeed, but the many pictures I've taken over the years of both mom and dad will hopefully keep their memories alive for my granddaughter, and her kids, and even theirs.
My most prized possessions on this earth are the photo albums of my two children; if the house were to catch fire I'd rescue those and little else. And now with grandchildren, that drive to preserve those moments is more compelling than ever. Memories are imperfect indeed, mine probably more than most. If I can only remember my memories of the past, then I want photographic evidence. I will never forget my mother's face; I have it right here in front of me for all time.
But philosophers be damned. Time does go on, of course; we watch our children grow and our parents die as we ourselves walk ever onward. Somewhere along the way is that place we want to pause for a while and make whatever memories we can, pleasant or not, before it gets too late.
While we're there, let's take some pictures.