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The art of memorializing

“Photography is inescapably a memorial art.” -Teju Cole

When my youngest son builds something with Lego’s, he is always so proud of his creation. He wants to show me and explain in great detail exactly how it was built, what it does, and why each little detail was added. He never wants to take his creation apart but there is such conflict because, if he doesn’t take it apart, how will he build the next work of art? So he asks me to take a photo of him with it. Sometimes he even wants me to take close-ups of the best parts. Then, after having secured the work’s ability to survive in our memory far beyond it’s actual existence, he can destroy it and move on to the next thing.

 “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” — Aaron Siskind

Photography has the ability to capture time; single snapshots of moments in our lives. Part of the art of photography is knowing which moments to capture. You have a split second to decide when to snap that shutter. This is something that Henri Cartier-Bresson spoke about- the decisive moment. For that fraction of a second, we have the power to stop time. We can look back on that time over and over and, though our memories of the moments that directly preceded and followed it may become a little blurry, that second of our lives stays in our memory thanks to the photograph. It remembers the little things and details that our minds have long since forgotten.

 “Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” –Anonymous

The photo becomes a memorial when it survives past the person or thing photographed, allowing us to later reflect on the moment’s meaning and feeling. My photographs of my grandfather who passed away years ago are more than moments captured. They have become memorials of who he was. They aid my memory of what he looked like when he smiled, how his face lit up when he was with his family, and how silly he could be. 

 “If you see something that moves you, and then snap it, you keep a moment.” — Linda McCartney

In the same way, my photographs of my son do the same thing. I have an older son who did the same thing as my youngest- he also built masterpieces with Lego’s and then asked me to take a photograph of them. I did and now I love to compare my photographs. I look back on those photos of my older son and remember when he was that small and excited about Lego’s. The photos of my younger son remind me of how short this season is; how quickly time really does fly. Before I know it, he will be past this time of playing with toys and posing for photos with his creations and these photos will be to me a memorial of something very special but gone- their childhoods.

In some ways, I guess what I’m doing is attempting to preserve these sweet, simple moments. Trying to find some way to make them last longer and at the same time, admitting to their fleeting nature and honoring the loss.

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