My daughter-in-law, Samantha, enjoys taking photos of me and my 3-year-old grandchild Maggie, especially when I'm not aware of her doing so. I actually prefer photos of me taken in that manner as I am uncomfortable posing for the camera. My expression always seems forced and unnatural, contrived to show a pleasant demeanor, when I most likely am not.
These latest pictures were of Maggie and me at the Bella Vista lake house, sitting side-by-side on our dock, fishing in Loch Lomond. Our backs were towards Sam while we looked out over the water. In the second photo, my hand is on Maggie's back while I've turned towards her. Perhaps I was telling her something silly to make her laugh or drawing her attention to some action in the lake. An old man sitting next to a young child, together, but separated by a generation. A moment caught, passed around electronically, and stored on any number of servers in the cloud, like so many other photos we take every day.
As I stared at the pictures, I wondered what Maggie would remember of the day if she came upon the picture in her future. Would she remember the warmth of the air, the cold of the water? Would she remember the fish we caught or the groundhog grazing in the yard?
I think of photos taken by my parents when I was Maggie's age. There is one of me and my siblings in the backyard of our Roswell, N.M., home, eight inches of snow around us. I vaguely remember the snow and cold, since we had encountered so few at such young ages. Turn the page of the photo album and there is my mother, posing happily on a sofa at the age of 28, already a mother of four. Something in her appearance is reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy and is how I will most likely remember her.
Photos may capture the physical nature of the moment, but not the thoughts of the one pictured. We notice appearance, clothes, and surroundings but can only speculate on a subject's thinking. Smiles are often coaxed by the photographer, perhaps hiding hurt feelings and anxieties. If the picture is of someone unknown to us we cannot discern their upbringing or moral character. Cameras do not, contrary to pagan belief, capture one's soul.
Photos convey information, but often not enough. So many of the pictures handed down to me are of persons unknown. I'm sure the photographer assumed that his audience would identify the person and place with no effort. But when photos are stored in old boxes and not seen by the heirs of those pictured for years, that information becomes lost or, perhaps worse, incorrect. Who, when, and where should be indicated on a photo, whether printed or digital. Even better would be to provide context for the photo: was this an occasion of sorts, had something of significance transpired prior to the taking of the photo? A picture should tell a story providing insight into the person photographed. Generations of family to come will feel closer to those they never knew when provided such information.
Maggie will become older and her interests will turn more to friends, school, and dealing with whatever her future holds. I hold a disproportionate amount of her attention now, but I know that will fade as she matures. I will not feel sorry for myself when that occurs because the young should focus on making their future, and not be held by obligation to the past. But I hope she sees those pictures of us every so often and remembers how much she is forever cherished and loved by her Papa.
-- Devin Houston is the president/CEO of Houston Enzymes. Send comments or questions to [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.