My official “assignment” for today is to write a story about the images on a roll of film. For some reason, that doesn’t spark my imagination at all. I can’t think of what kind of story I would write. Was the camera was lost so there is a great amount of time between photos? Or should the whole story take place during one vacation or holiday? I can’t decide, so instead I thought I’d just write about photos in general. I hope that’s not breaking my own rules!
I’ve never been a photo person. I understand why people like to take them, but I really don’t enjoy looking back on pictures from my own lifetime. Maybe I’m so self-critical that I can’t get past seeing my flaws to remember the actual memory. For example, I have this picture of myself and a few friends in junior high school. We had put on bright blue eye shadow and our hair is up in those stupid looking side ponytails…like, totally eighties! A lot of people would look back on that picture and remember having a great time with their friends one Saturday afternoon. I look at it and think, “my glasses were so ugly” or “I really shouldn’t have worn a purple shirt with lime green horizontal stripes.” Basically, I look back at pictures from when I was young or in high school and just cringe.
I do have two great photo memories involve my college friend, Nan, but it’s the memories of the actual picture taking that I love, not the photos.
The first is from a chorus trip we took to England, Ireland and Wales. (For some reason, when I think of that trip I always think “England, Ireland and Wales,” in that exact order. Not just one of the countries and not the United Kingdom. Always “England, Ireland and Wales.”) We were wandering around London when we came across what was supposedly the world’s longest escalator. We rode up it at least twice just to get a good picture of the sign that told us we were on the world‘s longest escalator. When we got back to the U.S., our families and friends wanted to know why we took a picture of the sign, but not the escalator. It had never even occurred to either of us!
I have never seen the photos from the second memory. I have no idea what happened to them. Maybe I didn’t develop the film or maybe they didn’t come out. We were on a road trip and drove by a sign that said “Dip in the Road.” Being punchy from hours in the car, we stopped and took pictures of each other standing in the road, next to the sign.
I do like pictures from before my lifetime, especially two specific black and white photos. One is of my grandmother in her late teens or early twenties. She is sitting in a car, leaning out the driver’s side window with her chin on her arms. The other is of my mother in her teens, sitting on the hood of a car wearing pedal pushers and Ked-like sneaker. She tells me the pedal pushers were black with a yellow strip and she obviously liked them because she has a huge smile on her face. They are both so young in these pictures; happy, hopeful and full of life.
I think that hope is one reason why I like older photos. They also tell a more interesting story. I know the story behind the photos taken in my lifetime. “Oh yes, this was Christmas I got the Barbie Townhouse.” But the old photos allow me to imagine what was happening when the picture was taken. Was my grandmother heading out on a trip? Did her father just by a new car and she was simply posing in it? Or was it a boyfriend’s car? (I have my grandmother’s scrapbook from her senior year of high school and, if she wasn’t exaggerating, she had her share of boyfriends!)
Some of my favorite photos growing up were of my parents in high school and during their early marriage. They divorced when I was two and I have no memory of them being married or even a couple. The pictures of them going to formal dances and sitting on the beach were from another lifetime, one I couldn’t imagine. (Of course, I’m sure it also had something to do with the fact that the pictures were from the fifties and I loved the movie Grease. I remember telling my mother once that I always thought that she was Sandy and her sister was Rizzo. I’m sure my aunt would have not found that flattering even though, in my opinion, Rizzo is a better part than Sandy!)
One photo I remember in particular is taken while they were on a picnic. My mother has on these funky sunglasses and my father is wearing a hat, kind of like a fedora but with a smaller brim. (I think they may call them pork pie, although I have no idea why.) This picture strikes me because they both look so stylish and hip. They look like they will leave the picnic for some incredibly cool party, a la Mad Men.
So maybe photos do spark my imagination after all. I certainly make up details about my relative’s lives when looking at their old pictures. But I think I’m happy just doing that. I don’t need to write stories about fictional lives in fictional photographs. I have real photos that allow me to romanticize and recreate real people’s live, people I love. I’m sure that the story behind my grandmother sitting in that car isn’t as nearly as exciting as the one I’ve created in my mind, but it makes me feel closer to her and happy to think that, at some point in her life, she had her whole life ahead of her and she was in the driver’s seat!