Photos aid memories
Last weekend I visited friends from college in Burlington, Vt., and eventually we got to reminiscing about our undergraduate days.
We recalled the good times we had eating together in the dining hall, at the round table over by the window, and working at the school newspaper. Each year, my friend Zach and I stayed on campus following the end of exams to put out the commencement issue of the newspaper, and when I mentioned the week we spent together at the conclusion of my sophomore year, Zach nodded.
“That was one of the most fun weeks I had in college,” he said.
“Me too,” I said.
Zach and I are obviously different people, with different memories, but our memories of that special week were very similar. They involved working hard and listening to music (mainly Prince), filling up the office water coolor with beer (which is not something I’d recommend) and going out at night to parties. Of course, pictures help: One of the photographs I took that week features an upside-down Zach hanging from the exposed pipes in the newspaper office. Would I remember that moment without the photograph? Or would it have disappeared into the ether, like so many other moments from the past?
I’ve always prided myself on having a better-than-average memory, which is why I’m always shocked when I don’t remember something.
Such moments often occur when I’m reminiscing with my friends. Inevitably, someone mentions something we did together, and everybody except me laughs with recognition, because I have no memory of the events in question at all. It isn’t that my memory of the events is fuzzy, or that it’s missing some pieces. It’s that it doesn’t exist.
As I said, my memory is pretty good.
Friends with bad memories sometimes rely on it.
My friend Hanna, for instance, will often turn to me for help filling in her own memory gaps. She’ll ask me which friends of ours attended her wedding, and which reunions she attended, and which misadventures occurred when and where and with whom. During these conversations, I never fail to be amazed by how terrible her memory is — by all the details, large and small, that seem to be missing.
Although it’s probably worth mentioning that one of the photographs that hangs in my living room is a group photo taken at Hanna’s wedding, and that I see this photo every day, which makes it extremely unlikely that I would forget which of our friends attended the wedding.
I’ve always hated taking photographs.
If people are having a good time, I hate asking them to pose for a photograph. And if I’m having a good time, I hate carrying around a camera and reminding myself to stop what I’m doing and take a picture. For some reason, taking photographs doesn’t come naturally to me. I view it as a distraction that takes my attention away from the fun I’m having.
My issue isn’t with the photographs themselves, which I enjoy and appreciate, and for a long time I depended on friends and family to give me copies of their photographs. But this approach to accumulating photographs has its disadvantages. For one thing, my friends and family don’t always take the pictures I would have taken, which means there are gaps — events and people that should have been documented, but weren’t. Some of my closest friends from high school are virtually absent from my photo albums. I know that they existed, and that we had good times, but the evidence is lacking.
Around my junior year of college, I decided I had to get a little more serious about taking photographs. I knew my time on campus would one day end, that my friends and I would scatter to the four winds, and that I would like to have some pictures to remind myself what we looked like back then and where we spent our time. I made a mental list of people and places I wanted photographed, and made sure to get group shots: of my housemates, of my friends at the newspaper, of the newspaper office itself, of my house. I also photographed events, such as a spring barbecue.
I stopped taking pictures after I graduated from college, which meant that when I moved from Birmingham, Ala., to Albany, I had only a handful of photographs of my friends and favorite spots. This needed to be corrected, and on my first trip back to Birmingham I took pictures: of my friend Jamie with his Gene Simmons action figure, of my friend Chris and her children, of Vulcan, the cast-iron statue of the god of the forge that overlooks the city.
These photos don’t replace the photos that are missing — I wouldn’t mind having photos of the trip I took to Jackson, Miss., to see the band KISS with Jamie and our friend Cindy, or a photo of my friends hanging out at my favorite bar — but they help.
More recently, I’ve failed to take photographs of my niece, Kenzie.
I meant to take some at Christmas, but never quite got around to retrieving my camera from my suitcase and bringing it downstairs. The same thing happened at Thanksgiving. Fortunately, Kenzie is likely to be one of the most photographed children in the history of the world, and my mother and sister periodically load photographs of her onto the photo sharing website Snapfish. Recently, I ordered about 50 pictures of her.
Great as Snapfish is, I don’t think I should rely on the kindness of my sister and mother to fill my photo albums with pictures of Kenzie.
When she turns 1 in May, I intend to bring a camera.
And maybe even take some pictures with it.
Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.