my father’s eyes

In Film, Memory-keeping

It only took a global pandemic for me to face the monster at the back of my closet . . . three generations of family photos in a jumble of boxes, envelopes, photo albums and slides.  It’s going to take me a while to wrestle this “archive” into some kind of order, but what have I got right now but time? And the pictures, so many I’ve never seen before, have offered a wonderful way to connect with distant family members, always important, and right now, life giving.

I am so grateful that my mom has been able to provide some names, dates, and addresses to annotate my grandmother’s box of battered black & whites because  without her commentary my grandmother’s box would be full of ghosts. For my mother’s part, I know that reconnecting with her past selves and happier times in an email with a few new / old scans has offered joyful punctuation to these long, lonely days.

Grandmom & Popop’s wedding portrait
My grandmother, my mother, her cousin and aunt, the boardwalk, Atlantic City, NJ.

I came across a few rolls from what appears to be a mother – son road trip my dad must have taken with his mom while he was in California during college. He’d never mentioned it to me, and there is something so curious about these photos of the Brooklyn boy at his ease in LA looking at turns  surfer or  beatnick alongside  his starched and upright Old World mother among the sand, cacti and Missions. I wish I had known about these photos while he was still alive so that I could have asked for the stories behind the pictures. I’m sure there were stories.

My dad and grandmother, somewhere in Southern California
Bubbe Pearl in cacti, multiple exposure

I’d never seen any of a series of slides taken right around my arrival. For whatever reason, none of this roll made the cut for prints, and seeing them for the first time more than half a century after the fact felt like a birthday gift from the past.

Mom, glamorous pos-delivery

The boxes upon boxes of my own childhood memories have been so much fun to revisit. Better still has been sharing them with my kids, my brother and my cousins.

Philadelphia Zoo
cousins = best

The biggest surprise, though, has been finding my dad’s documentary and artistic photographs, almost all taken before I was born.

Growing up our family Nikkormat only came out for special occasions and vacations. I can’t recall my father ever making pictures for himself, but I now have evidence in packets of brownie prints and boxes of slides that he did.

Since I didn’t start teaching myself photography until a few years after my dad was gone, we never had the opportunity to share this interest with each other, but  I am  so taken by the perspective in some of his Kodachromes. I can feel his enthusiasm for the shot – in the color, the light or an unconventional composition. I understand what he was trying to do. These are scenes that would spur me to lift my own camera.

It’s been a completely unexpected boon. The gift, so many years later , of being able to see things fresh through my father’s eyes.

Take good care, keep looking
Debbie

12 Comments

  1. I think it’s amazing that images like these resonate so strongly with us all – even when they are not our family members. There is something universal about snapshots that affects so much more than a carefully composed and crafted photograph. Perfection was never the aim in making these pictures; it seems it was all about documenting the moments and setting them to memory. I love every single one!

    • I suspect we react to the emotion – in the subject and of the photographer. I think both leaves an artifact of energy on the image, and the emotions are universal.

  2. Wow, he was GOOD! Love, love, love all of of these but especially the one of you at the zoo.

    • Well, they weren’t all his . . . obvs, the ones of my mom’s mom/family. And honesty in reporting, I think the one of my and my cousins might have been taken by my photographer aunt, but the California photos, the one of my mom in the hospital and those last two are definitely his. The zoo, to be fair, could have been either my mom or my dad. Different times, I don’t think you’re permitted to climb the elephants any longer.

    • Do you? I love that! You got me to look at the faces more closely and I just realized I’m right now wearing the necklace my mom is wearing in the hospital!

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