Monday, January 12th, 2015...9:04 pm

Moments of Truth

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The good topics my students and I investigate together get stuck in my head. I leave my classroom and I still think about life through the lens of our inquiry. Right now we are reading and researching and discussing a question that I’ve discussed with students for at least the last five years – maybe more: To what extent does photography limit or enhance our understanding of the world?

We read about cases where photos cause the audience to jump to conclusions, to make unfair assumptions. We read about cases where difficult photos of difficult truths light a fire for change – lead to an understanding of hatred and evil that perhaps only a photo could communicate. We read about photography as art and photography as journalism and where the line between the two exist. We don’t read much about social media and photo sharing but we talk about where online photos lead us to truth and where they lie to us, where they lead us in a better direction and where they lead us astray. We talk about emotional truth  and whether a narrated story or a still photo elicit more emotional truth from us personally.

We talk about other people’s photos – about what we can learn from looking at photos of events and places, ideas and spaces, that we ourselves have not experienced. But today, when I got home and flipped through my photos, I started thinking about what truth our own photos show about ourselves. I sometimes wonder what compels me to document so much of my life. Why do I want to photograph it and not just live it? Why does having that moment captured in a still frame matter to me? Am I seeking truth when I look for my camera at a moment unfolding in front of me? Or am I just capturing the moments that will tell the story as I hope it unfolds? What am I sacrificing by taking so many photos and not just appreciating the moments as they pass?

There’s a photo of my mother and I when I was probably just a bit older than Nora. We are in my bed, both with our hair pinned back, reading. I remember the exact book I was reading, actually – a choose your own adventure book about a mystery at a ballet studio. There are many moments I remember from my childhood – many big and many small. Many of these were captured on film, developed and placed into the plastic sleeves of the photo albums my parents kept. I can recall many photos in those albums, but for some reason this one simple picture stands out.Who knows why exactly my dad felt compelled to snap the picture, but to me, this photo represents a truth of what it means to be a mother: you read side by side with your child.

Moments of Truth

A few weeks ago, on one of the nice days where it felt so much better to be outside than in, we played outside in the back yard for hours. I grabbed my book at some point and sat on the swing, reading and listening to the sounds of the narrated stories my children were living out on the slide and in the play house and running around the yard. At one point, Nora ran inside, grabbed her own book and sat next to me on the swing, reading. Here we were, suddenly living out the truth of motherhood I had waited for. I let it happen, reading and swinging and every so often checking to see if she was still there next to me. I didn’t want to spoil it.

She eventually got up to move onto something new.

But I couldn’t let it pass. I couldn’t let the moment go without a photo.

I asked her to come back, to hold her book and read for a moment while I sat next to her and did the same. To recreate the truth we had just lived for 15 minutes.

I set my phone up on a chair, set the timer and snapped photos of us because I had to capture it in more than just my memory.

I wanted photographic proof.

I wanted the two photos  – me as the daughter and me as the mother – side by side.

I know I’m not the only one who records so much of my life – who seeks the small moments of the truth I am living. I know that others of you are also documenters, photographers of the magic and the mundane.

But I also know that there are many of us who live without the camera constantly at our side. Who don’t need the photographic evidence that the moment existed. Who would be absolutely fine with the memory absent from the camera roll.

What does it mean that I seek to document my truth? Or at least the truth as I see it?

I don’t know. But, just like I’m asking my students, I’m thinking about it.


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  • Wish I could remember what I was reading. Love your musings.

  • I often wonder if maybe I document too much, until I look back at old photos and realize how much I cherish the memories they bring back to me. I believe living is important, and enjoying the moment is beautiful, but that our ability to capture that moment is a gift. I hope your daughter will someday see this photo, and feel compelled to follow suit!

  • I love this! As someone who loves to take photographs and digital scrapbook, I’m always torn between living in the moment and wanting to have a memory of that moment later down the road. I think I scaled back my memory capturing a but too much. Hubby and I have been married 4 years, and I realized around Christmas that the most recent photos we have together are 2 photos from an entire summer we spent in Italy two years ago. Just 2 images of us among thousands of photos of everything else in Italy. How do you balance documenting with being present in a moment?
    Stephanie @ Sustaining the Powers recently posted…Roasted Beet Salad With Goat Cheese and Beet Pesto Vinaigrette + Meal Plan Monday #2My Profile

  • Every time I ponder this I go back to the same thought in my head, “but if I did not take the picture then I would not really be able to remember all the details and I LOVE looking at the picture to be able to do that!” I do not have the best memory. I love that photographs help me with that. Is the time I spend taking the photo to preserve that moment worth it? I think so. Some may argue otherwise but I cannot agree… I do like Stephanie’s question at the end of her comment up there thought… I’ve thought about that as well…

  • I so enjoyed your post AND the photos. I love that you have almost as many questions as statements about why we need to document our lives. I took so many pictures as my kids were growing up that the rest of the family made fun of me.
    Now as I sit by my frail,90-year-old Momma’s bedside, I go through boxes, drawers, and photo albums full of memories. Also, I keep a square, black and white photo of my mom and me when I was 2 or 3 on my bedside table. I even wrote an essay about that picture, so I totally get your perceptive thoughts on the power of photography.

  • That photo is spectacular. But it’s different now. We take more pictures because they are so disposable, easy to delete if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes it feels like film was reserved for more special occasions, although Lord knows I have boxes of photos from college of my friends and I just sitting around doing nothing.
    Leigh Ann recently posted…some stuff: USE YOUR WORDS editionMy Profile

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