This blog was supposed to be about my photographs. I had, for the first time since having children, found a hobby that didn’t involve Netflix and eating chocolate (for the most part – though uploading a million photos can always be improved by a spot of Vampire Diaries and a Wispa). I wanted to get better. I got a proper camera, and after we moved to Dublin and I became a stay-at-home parent, I finally had the time to use it. It was supposed to be a photojournal of sorts, until the writing took over.
So this post is about photographs. And for your delectation, here are lots of them.
My husband always used to say that our memories are camera enough. That it’s nicer to try to remember things rather than to capture them – that having the camera out takes you out of the pleasure of the moment and makes you a spectator, rather than a participant. It’s creating an objective view of your own subjective experiences. (When I reminded him of this just now, he remains animated upon the subject and said, “I’m keen on the experience of total immersion. Ideally I’d live in some kind of Matrix-like experience machine, wherein my brain was constantly stimulated to feel pleasure 24 hours a day. I wouldn’t care at all that my body was a disgusting, bloated, piece of meat lying in a vat of nutrients, with wires coming out of it”. Reader, I married him).
He may be a bloated sack of meat, but he’s my bloated sack of meat.
Of course, he is right. Of course, it’s disruptive to watch everything through the sheen of layers of glass, and to have days marked down by the tick tick tick of the shutter. But taking shots of people with a proper camera is a bit like having a shield. There’s a foreignness to it, people understand that it’s supposed to encroach on them. They don’t seem to mind so much, having their image snatched at and squirrelled away. It’s different pointing a phone at people – that’s so intrinsic a part of the everyday. With a camera, you get that extra bit of performance -of self-consciousness -that brings a bit of weight; it makes the moment juicy, meaty, to be savoured in the now, and slavered over later.
And because for years I rarely took photos, I missed a lot. How I wish that the moments I hold in my heart were also on my screen. So many of my memories are incomplete.The day my dear friend introduced me to her new son and daughter. I remember my first beautiful sight of their faces and the feeling of being whisked away by their openness, their willingness to be loved. I remember, vividly, the shocking joy at hearing these children who I had just met, calling me “Auntie Aoife”. But I don’t remember exactly what they wore, the games they played, how the slow flowering of friendship began between my child and hers. The day is fuzzy, a whirl of emotions, and I wish that I had a proper record of it. Surely such a momentous day deserves to be preserved outside of memory?
Or what about the first days I spent with the best friends I ever bought (at an antenatal class) – luckily, I have lots of photos of our everyday moments due to the constant presence of our three precious firstborns, photos I can hardly bear to look at now because it reminds me of how badly I miss them (though it would be unbearable not to have those photos too). But we only started snapping photos after we became friends, after we began to be comfortable with each other (after all, the only reason we had met was through an accident of timing, and luck – the act of all having babies within a week of each other). If only I had managed to photograph them at the start, before I realised that I love them, before their faces became familiar to me. I can’t recall any sense of strangeness about them now, but I know it was there – and it’s lost to me now.
When thinking about someone they have lost, people often talk about the empty seat at the table. It’s a bit of a shabby image, a bit mawkish – a glib and malicious tug on the heartstrings – but it resonates so strongly because of how effectively it conveys the loss. It’s remarkable how profoundly that empty space can echo your loss back to you.I’ve been thinking about that sense of loss recently; nudging at it, like probing the tender, spongy pit of gum when a tooth has gone. There’s a space in my photos recently, and looking them over, I can feel the lack so keenly.
So from now on I’m always going to be the one who’s annoying everyone at the party by clicking at them. I’m going to take the photos that show the wrinkles and bedhair and grimaces and tears and bad outfits and double chins and sneezes. I’ll delete the ones you really hate, if it makes you feel better. I won’t put them up on Instagram if you despise them. But if I don’t take those photos, then I’ll miss the rest of it, the small details of the everyday that are the ties that bind the memories and keep them from slipping away. Hysterical laughter over a small absurdity. A hat on sideways. A standoff over a toy. Cheesy shots with Christmas lights and birthday candles and first steps, first shoes, first smiles. A head nodding behind a newspaper. Strong hands.
I don’t want to miss anyone.