Thursday, November 12, 2009

Images that haunt

I've started going through my photo archives again. It's something that I had always done regularly - it helps me learn from my experiences and (hopefully) improve my photography - but I stopped after my father's passing. I was afraid of coming across a picture that would send me spinning back into darkness.

Earlier this week, though, I ventured back into the sequentially dated, painstakingly edited and sorted folders on my backup drive. I wasn't looking for anything specific. I simply realized that sooner or later I'll have to come face-to-face with what we'd lost. And I can't avoid the stories - literary, oral, visual or all three - that I've long used to mark my and my family's journey through this world.

As I slowly clicked through the photos from the past number of years, I noticed a recurrent theme: hospitals. We'd spent so much time visiting my father there, and since I had decided to take pictures when most other folks would have left their cameras at home, I ended up with countless visions into a journey both he and we wished had never been taken.

I find myself hovering over photos of him in his hospital bed, of our kids gathered around him, of my mother's look of concern, of his hands holding get well cards from our son, of whatever trivial-at-the-time moments I decided to grab with my lens. Maybe trivial then, but certainly not now.

It's jarring, upsetting and more than a little haunting. I want to move back the clock, or at least PhotoShop some of the images so they don't appear quite so stark. It was hard to accept his getting sick, and then sicker. It's even harder looking back at this now that he's gone.

I don't know what I'll ever do with the pictures. I don't know if I'll ever post any of them online - for now, it feels like the kind of thing that will cause others more pain than joy. I guess I'm learning the flip side of my decision to use photography to tell my and my family's story. Sometimes, the story hurts too much to share. Sometimes, you wonder if you should have even brought the camera at all.


Rinkly Rimes said...

The time is sure to come when you'll be able to look at the pictures with pleasure. I hope it's soon.

Gallow said...

Your writing draws me in, and you so clearly build your life's story. I can feel myself in your shoes, even though I'm not. Well written.

lissa said...

I know the feeling. I did that a few months after my mom died. There were pictures of this frail woman in a wheelchair that were jarring and upsetting. But it's who she was, and we can't deny that.

I did a slideshow for her, of some pictures I had taken at their last anniversary celebration (just a couple of months before she died). She kept it on her computer, in the sunroom where she spent her last good days enjoying her home. It looped over and over and she loved seeing the pictures.

One of my favorite pictures from there - and I will post it as soon as I find it - is the zoomed-in photo of my parents holding hands on the table.

I wanted to document her face, her presence, knowing it was the last few months we'd have her...but it's hard to look. And yet, that period yielded a beautiful photo of her on Mother's Day (also her last), wearing a sweater my dad had gotten's the best of her last photos and I made copies for everyone just before the funeral. It hurts my heart but makes me smile too. The feelings are intense.

These are those "firsts", and mementos catapulting you back to the pain that sometimes eases up enough for you to breathe without a catch in your throat. Brace yourself but there's no preparation for the unexpected, such as you've discovered.

Again...and always: you are not alone.

Love to you all.

Mojo said...

There are no accidents Carmi. You brought the camera along for a reason. You took the photos for a reason. and in the fullness of time you'll realize what that reason was.

One of the local photo labs here used to print on their envelopes the slogan "Carry a camera; capture a memory." Their motivation was obviously to get people to shoot more film that they would then get to process thereby keeping the wheels of commerce turning. But regardless of the incentive behind it, the sentiment was no less true.

This is your chosen vehicle of remembrance Carmi. And isn't remembering kinda the point?

My remembrance for the day is a somewhat happier one. A trip I took with my younger son to Washington, DC when he was in the 5th grade. And no surprise, we spent most of the two day expedition at the Smithsonian.
Thematic Photographic 75: "Travel" v.2.0 - National Treasure

smarmoofus said...

"...of whatever trivial-at-the-time moments I decided to grab with my lens. Maybe trivial then, but certainly not now."

I was just telling somebody the other day about a childhood experience I had. I don't have any photographs from this, but one summer when my mom's extended family all converged at my grandparents' place at the same time, we had a cookout on the land that is now 1/4 mine. I'm not sure what we'd hoped to accomplish, but us cousins placed a tape recorder set to "record" under the lawn chair of one of the grown-ups. I remember thinking how sneaky we were being... and how disappointed we were when the tape failed to reveal any juicy talk on playback. But I re-found that tape many years later and played it again. And to hear the sound of our childish laughter, all of my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles all talking to and over-talking each other... It was trivial. Really, it was. But so important, too.

My thoughts are with you and your family. Hold on to the little things.


Cloudia said...

Well said, friend.

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that those images will be healing at some point. you followed your instincts, and instinct is God's urging.

I took pictures of my Grandfather on his deathbead. I'm glad I did.

momemts in time said...


I don't know if you have seen any of the work by documentary photographer Alfredo Jaar but this is one way he dealt with painful images ~ he is a great and passionate speaker if you ever get the chance to hear him. The Tate Modern has an interesting article on his work. Sometimes the photographer's job is to take photographs when it is painful ~ just so others know and remember.

Otherwise time is often a healer, sometimes a long time being necessary and occasionally giving the images to someone else is a release.

Some painful (sad) images I required 25 years before I was in a position where I wanted to print and show them here and here are two earlier posts I made on the subject with two of the images.

One idea you may find helpful at some stage is to publish a small collection of images as momentos for your immediate family in book form and print as few (even just 1) or as many as you wish ~ check out 'Blurb' as it is very easy with them, fairly cheap and qood qulaity.It also gives the reader the opportunity to recollect in private in their own time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carmi
I know exactly how you feel as my Dad in and out of the hospital the last year of his life.
I have pictures of my Dad from Ian's graduation from Herziliah, he was very ill at the time but have the courage and worked up the energy to attend his graduation...that is when I realized how strong my Dad really was....2 weeks later he passed away...I suppose that is the way life is, but it is rarely that a day goes by that I do not think of my Dad (he died in 1993). Thank goodness for the pics. I refer to them quite often and see what my dad did for his grandson...there will be a time when you look at the pics and remember the past without your heart breaking...I would like to tell that you will at some time not miss him, but I can' this day I still miss my dad very very much and would love to have an hour with him to catch him up on all things that have happened in our lives, but that will never happen, so I go on missing him, loving him for who he was and for what he taught me about life, and I just hope that I will always walk in his footsteps, but they are awfully big steps to fill. The hole in your heart will start to mend but the love will never disipate, hold on to that thought.
Hugs to every1 and much love

Marion said...

I took pictures of my mother, as well, during her last sickness. I could not stop doing so...but it took a long while (2 years) before I could look at them. It's still heart lurches when I look at them...but I'm so glad I have them. Those photos I have bring the essence of my mother to the fore.

rashbre said...

Very poignant.

I agree with others that say there's no accident to your taking a camera and theres a part of you in the actions.

And sometimes it can be a tune or an object that trips a memory. Just make sure you find some of the very best moments when you look through the collections.