They tell me that the past and the future are mere illusions—this is what I am told by the great teachers of wisdom and spirit. I am told that the only thing that we really have is the present moment. The here and now. Yet, the ghosts continue to visit me at the most inopportune times. They are the swirling winds of my past, the floating ghosts of this life that I know.
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The confluence of major life events has had my head spinning with a special kind of disorientation. It is hard to keep track of where I've been, where I'm going, and exactly where I am. Contemporary life does not allow us to feel the passing of loved ones, nor appreciate aging and illness. More likely, it merely forces us into task-based activity.
Banks, lawyers, doctors, creditors, insurance agents, advisors, and accountants. Oh my. I dream about them and not in a good way. When someone dies, gets sick, or infirm, it activates an entire industry, like switching on an silent-and-ready, gigantic machine. Those of us left in mere mortal state navigate through the morass, unable to deal with the actuality of loss. There are too many forms to fill.
Most people would tell you that, in a catastrophe, they'd try to save their photographs above all other material possessions. It's probably what I would do. Photos are symbolic of our memories. They are the physical manifestations of the important moments of our life. Yet, to equate them with life, is something of a trap.
I have boxes of old snapshots. These days I find myself rescuing every old snapshot that comes my way. Once prized—people always say that the first possession they’d save in a fire is their photos—so many photos eventually find their way to flea markets, antique shops, and sadly, landfill. We try in vain, with our camera, to forever capture these moments, only to find each and every image is also of this mortal world. And so it ages and fades just as we and our memories do.
A delivery truck speeds by. A man crosses the street with a bag lunch. In the distance, a woman and child hold hands. In the foreground, a tattoo parlor waits for its next customer, reflecting the convergence of activities in its shop window.
Snapshots are worlds within worlds. One could study an image seemingly forever and always find something revealing. Mostly it is the gestalt in which I am interested. I search for an over-arching impression, a feeling that grabs me. Most any snapshot makes me feel something. With all the photos I look at most every day, the gamut of feelings more times than not reside in the zone of melancholy.
Photography is at its best when it reveals to us the marvel of the fleeting moment. Time is constructed of events multiplied by infinity, inextricably interwoven, a fabric so complex we can barely focus upon it. Great enlightened masters are said to see the essence of space and time and, consequently, the key to eternity. Alas, most of us only see what is most obviously in front of us. Photography allows us to savor, to find a moment and ponder its great wonder.
I work a lot with old snapshots. Some are found and rescued. Others come from old family albums. Snapshots are pure magic, the essence of wizardry. They are windows into a world that does not quite exist. We were not born with the ability to see time in a frozen state. Yet, the snapshot stops everything forever, or at least until the photo disintegrates to dust.
Snapshots are a passion for me. While none of us want to be cornered by the well-meaning friend who is armed with vacation pictures, I love looking at snapshots just the same. My favorite snapshot thing-to-do is to closely examine the people who stumble into the background of such photos. Who are they? Where are they going? Are these really just chance encounters? Or, are they messengers for a far off space and time?