Recently I watched a film called Fathers and Sons. Great film! Well worth renting if you haven’t seen it. Overall, it’s just very real. These characters say the things that we all think but wonder if anybody else thinks that way too. Well, that’s how I felt about it anyway. So many parts stuck with me, brought me to tears, inspired me to write.
In the first vignette the father played by Bradley Whitford has a moment outside on the step with his son. They are watching his grandson, his son’s son, running and playing in the yard. Whitford’s son gets up to go inside and get his camera to capture this “perfect shot” of his boy playing in the water sprinkler. But Bradley Whitford stops him, tells him to just sit down and watch his son. It’s a powerful moment, a reminder of how quickly kids grow up and how we should be present in every second. And this really struck a chord with me. I so get that.
I have a lot of friends and family who take pictures of everything. I’m very much the opposite and I don’t take very many photographs. I’ve always had cameras, ever since I was a little kid, but I’ve never been snap happy, not even when I was young. I don’t particularly like photos of events or gatherings, photos with the sole purpose of recording something for your personal records. I probably inherited this from my mother. Growing up, my mom would snap the pictures but then never develop the film. The little canisters would sit in the fridge for years and years. Eventually she might send them away and sometimes they’d turn out and sometimes they’d be too old and ruined, and it never seemed to matter much which way it went.
Don’t get me wrong, there are certain kinds of photographs that I love–black & white art house shots, movie stills, photos taken in exotic places I long to visit, photos of people and places I don’t know, photos that tell stories, that make me think. I love this kind of photography. I’m not big on scenics, or nature and wildlife. I like people in the shot. I’m more compelled by an old woman’s wrinkly face than I am by a moose standing in the trees. It’s just a preference.
I remember when we went to see the Rolling Stones in concert and my brother-in-law purchased everyone a disposable camera at the concessions. He’s very thoughtful in this way, and I always appreciate everything he does for me. But at the same time there was a part of me that was bothered by the idea that now I had to carry around this camera, I would be expected to take photos and share them later. I really had to be careful that I didn’t pop off all the shots before the Stones even took the stage, I was so anxious to be done with this task. At the time I just thought it was the having to hold onto this thing all day that was bothering me. It was a concert so I didn’t have a purse or a bag or pockets or anything. But when I saw that scene in the movie I immediately understood that I’m like that with all recording of my life’s events photos. I want to see it, experience it, with my own naked eye, not filtered through a lens, not wondering if the light is ok, if I need flash, if I should zoom. I want to be in it, let it engulf me, become part of me. And if I do that, I don’t need a photo in order to help me remember. I can be back in that moment in my mind anytime I want.
None of my Bon Jovi pictures turned out. Not a single one. And it doesn’t bother me a bit, because I’ve got not just the concert, but the whole trip, inside me and I call up any part of it and get excited or perturbed or tired or have my mouth water with anticipation or whatever I felt in the moment.
So I get this being in the moment without the camera message that the father was trying to bring home to his son.
Then I go to my dead grandparents’ house to spend Thanksgiving and I find myself leafing through old photo albums into the wee hours of the night. People I recognize, events I attended, photos of me, my sisters, my cousins, aunts, uncles, people I don’t recognize and perhaps never even met, some occasions I vaguely recall, most I don’t remember at all. But it doesn’t matter, I know this family. I might not remember that particular card game at the camp but I remember card games. And even the familiar faces are like stranger’s faces, young and smooth, and I see things in them that I was too young to have noticed back then. And I wonder who took the photo and why. And the experience rips out my heart and makes me sob with the nostalgic loss of it all. And suddenly I get the other side of it too, the capturing of events for family record. They might have thought they were doing it for them, but really they were doing it for me. They were doing it for me and my sisters and my cousins and all their kids and all their kids’ kids, so that we might see them and know them.
Lesson learned: pictures of the Rolling Stones on stage, unimportant and unnecessary; pictures of me and Sherry at the concert, not a bad idea; pictures of everyone at Christmas as my mom’s house; absolutely vital.
Drinking: coffee with cream
Listening To: My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis
Hair: razoring its way into a mullet if i’m not careful