My father was a shutterbug.
There’s photos of everything. Silly things. Mundane things. Plants, trees, oceans, cars. He also had a lot of pictures of himself. Dad was a handsome guy, I can see why he’d want photos of himself. But what was most important was the fact that he had pictures of his family. Dad was always taking pictures. I never really remember the camera flashes but the evidence of his obsessive commemoration of life was evident when I cleaned up my mom’s old storage unit.
The storage unit had been a contention point in my family. My mother had it during the most turbulent time of our relationship. It was an unneeded expense and I drove up in a huff to get it cleaned out so my aunt didn’t have that expense anymore. It was an exhausting and miserable experience but my friends made it worth it. I reclaimed box after box of my mother and father’s things. Memories, souvenirs and box after box of camera, photo albums and pictures. And this was back in the day when you had to take instant cameras to the local grocery to get them developed.
There were pictures of me as a child; lots of those. Pictures of me and my mom. Pictures of my dad when he was younger. Pictures of my parents’ marriage. Things I never got to see, things I barely remember. I got to see my parents in love ( I always knew my parents loved each other but by the time I was born and into my childhood whether they actually were in love was a question). I got to see pictures of me as a baby, as a child, with friends, with others. With family: family I don’t know or can’t say I’m close to. I saw my Dad’s mother (my namesake) and his father (who I barely remember). And I got to share those with my friends who had really never seen a me past 2008.
But my dad being a shutterbug reminded me of a distinct fact: I am not always a shutterbug. And it’s a lament that comes up a lot. I regret not taking more pictures before, during and after convention. I lament that I don’t take more pictures of vacations, of people I care about and of my family. I regret not being in more photos and the desire is pretty selfish: I want to be remembered. I want to remember those I care about. But I also struggle with the idea of being “present”. A common gripe people have with us young millennials is that we don’t experience life: we only live through phones and cameras. I want to be in the moment. I want to experience things and commit them to memory. I doubt I’ll forget what Carlos looks like or how Amber’s hair resists fitting into a photo frame. I won’t forget the rush of being on stage at A-Kon or how I felt during that Fitz and the Tantrums show. I wanted to be in the now but I regret not taking more pictures. To show the world, my family, my friends.
I struggle with the “narcissism” associated with being a person who takes a lot of photos. And it’s hard to want to take a lot of photos of yourself when you fundamentally don’t like who you are or what you look like. I didn’t get the “millennial” urge to capture all the moments but having a blog and a social media following does encourage me to post photos. My memories are no longer just mine, they are everyone’s.
My family started a strange fixation with photos after my grandmother’s memory started to go. Mary Anne had been forgetful for a while but towards the end of her life, we started taking more pictures. It wasn’t just to celebrate a holiday: it was a tool. When Grandma forgot one of her grandchildren, there was a photo. When Grandma asked about her husband, there was a photo. And if we had to establish how long we’ve been a family: there were pictures from the past. But we had been a family of photos for years. There’s pictures from the 70s and more regrettable fashion and hair choices that I got to discover during the process of burying my mother.
We were always a family that took photos, Dad and Mom could agree on there. There’s stylized GlamorShots of me from childhood and school pictures and all sorts of other pictures to celebrate milestones, holidays and just because for reasons. We stopped taking pictures like that before Dad died. But no one really stopped taking pictures of other things but the way I used the camera did change. After dad died, when I was given a camera to go and do something: I took pictures of people and things. Almost never myself. I had to be forced into photos during middle school and junior high and by high school this was a huge problem. There just weren’t pictures of me.
College was full of photos of people but by the nature of my friends and status as panelist, anime club president and cosplayer that people took photos of me. And as I got older, I started to cherish photos more.
I want to carry on Dad’s legacy of photography. I want more pictures, more memories. I want more albums and more pictures framed. One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received was a framed picture from Taylor of me and his roommate (who I did consider a friend at the time). I want to show the world what I care about and what a moment is like for me. I want to share pictures of mountains, of meals, of oceans and skies. Blurry concert photos and fat fingers that greedily cover up lenses in frenzied attempts to capture a moment. I want to take more pictures of costumes and more of me in costumes.
I promise to get better about taking pictures. I hope this picture of me as a kid making poor fashion choices helps.