My memory of childhood has little to do with black and white Kodak moments printed on glossy photographic paper. Those images, framed in white deckle, are family memories. They are copies of the updates shared with grandparents, aunts, uncles and old friends. Mother sent them off enclosed with her cards and letters keeping everyone up to date on how her five children were doing. But my own recollection of childhood has nothing to do with the people whose images she shared, and everything to do with places, events, and maybe on occasion, weather. Tornadoes, houses, sidewalks, playgrounds, rain storms, puddles, driveways, steps, trees, fences, porches, chairs, dogs, cats and other critters, they are all there … but people rarely populate my memory. Yet I am drawn to those early photos, because they reassure me of the authenticity of my real memories. The picture might be of the family dressed up for easter Sunday, but I recognize we are standing on the concrete sidewalk and the little stairs leading to our old front porch in Iowa City, so I can identify myself as real within the family construct. I suppose it isn’t odd, that I should feel this need to identify myself from family photographs, because my real memoires have no physical presence. After all, memories reside only in the mind. But like family stories, while family photographs may be constructed from the vision of others, they serve as a permanent reminder of our own impermanent existence.

So now that I am the photographer for my own life, the question is, to what purpose? Do I have any real memory attached to the hundreds of travel photos I have taken? The fading images of various farewell, birthday, graduation, or retirement parties … do I care about anyone who is there? Like all those people, the hundreds of garden photos, classic front doors, fences and gateposts await identification. Is there a reason to keep any of them? There they all are in their hundreds, dressed up in glossy plastic sleeves sitting on the bottom shelf of my bookcase. Is it necessary to keep them all? Who are they all? What castle, church or village is that anyway? Who are the fuzzy people standing next to the Pimms cup at the end of term? And where am I? Oh yes, that’s right … I took the pictures, so there is no me there.

The truth is all those photographs act like cue cards for the plot line of my life. There are all those images of friends only I can recall.  No one else will ever be interested in the pictures of me and my friend Julia by the bakery in Broadstairs, England, mugging for the camera and laughing at God-knows-what? Julia is gone. She died tragically, and while I have no real memory of what was so dreadfully funny that day, I keep the images to help me recall her existence and to trigger my real memories of her. She was a bright light of energy with an absurd sense of humor, and I miss her. So, I guess the answer is yes, I need to keep some portion of my printed photos, because there are so many people and places I would like to recall, and they are all in there somewhere. However, there is really no rush. Mother always said that procrastination was a useful tool. So I shall take it one-step-at-a-time as I address the proliferation of printed photographs lying in wait. Step one … I’ll think about it.


  1. Oh those photos. In a little box I carry in my hand. How to control the ease of taking an image. I was better off when I had to chose carefully what I wanted to remember.

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