Pictures, Nuns and Philosophy

It was a rainy day yesterday, and I spent a sizable portion of it at the antique mall digging through a bin of old photographs. Five for a buck. Four quarters can buy you a small peepshow of other people's lives. And if I'm lucky there might be spidery writing on the back with names, dates, places or sentiments.

I buy the photos to display my handmade jewelry at a boutique, using them to prop up a pair of earrings or necklace. So I could tell you that the reason I love to sift through this bin of of glossy photos with their lacy white edges is purely to search for creative material. But truth be told I find looking at the old pictures mesmerizing. Intriguing.

Intriguing because I love to imagine what was going on in the subject's lives at that very moment the picture was taken. Were they in the midst of their greatest joy, greatest sorrow, biggest laugh, or just another unremarkable day in their life?

One of the pictures I bought. Do you think they are amused by the nuns snoozing in the lounge chairs behind them?

The vintage pictures in the bin also remind me that the world spins madly on. Moments once lingered over, smoothed into a scrapbook, or maybe grimaced at in critical self examination are ultimately left behind. Tossed into a bin for someone else to wonder over on a rainy afternoon.

And it's sort of interesting if I think of these pictures as a metaphor for life. For example, imagine your worst moments frozen on film, in a stark or grainy black and white image. Now picture your favorite moments captured too, in subtle Kodachrome shades. Then imagine the pictures you will take in your best tomorrow, vivid and flooded with light.

Lastly, imagine all these pictures of yours tossed into this bin I'm sorting through. All mixed together. The dark photographs next to the ones tinged with color. The gorgeous ones piled on top of those that are out of focus or bleeding at the edges. It's the whole big, crazy, beautiful, contrasting jumble that makes up your life. Not any one single snapshot captures it all. It's sort of amazing really.


Megan (Best of Fates) said...

How beautifully written - I've always found old photographs on sale to be terribly sad, but now I'll think twice about it.

kiki said...

great post, and i agree with you, it is "amazing." especially love that first photograph. everytime i visit mumsy, i go thru old pictures and snatch old ones from the 40s of my grandparents, etc. i have quite the collection now. thanks for sharing and take care.

Katie J said...

Lovely post and very astute. Thank you.

Lotta said...

Thank you for the nice comments! Someone on Twitter caught that the phrase, "And the world spins madly on" is from a great song by The Bleeders. Def. check it out on your itunes, etc.

Gwen said...

But we never do photograph the bad moments, do we? Maybe that's why we keep thinking they should not be a part of our photo album.

Nick Hornby's novel "Juliet, Naked" (which I liked more than I think I was supposed to) had a variation on this theme of the stories behind old pictures.

Lotta said...

Gwen - Really? Usually people have to pry the bad photos out of my clenched fists because I refuse to stop looking at them. But these days..tossing them in the bin.

I will read your novel if you download that podcast "Frenemies" from This American Life and listen to Part II - about religion. The authors tone of voice so much reminds me of you!