Images and the Thread of Memory

It is amazing to see a photograph of my grandmother, the woman who raised me, who I had only known as a woman in her late fifties, as a girl of eight, with her parents and brothers. The expression on her face at eight was one I knew on the woman of 60, and I wonder if the thoughts she had looking into my camera as I made a portrait of her, were the same as the thoughts this little girl has.

Recently I was asked by a cousin for the date my grandmother came over to America from Wales, and so I pulled this photograph out of the box where my family history sleeps. Seeing it again I am reminded that this is why I became a photographer, and why I value the object that a printed photograph is. I can get lost in the image and the object on so many levels.

I remember these people, and through the image can see outwardly what they must have carried with them through their lives. The photograph is a document of a memory they held, having experienced the voyage firsthand, and seeing the image, I am given a little glimpse into that journey. I wonder who made the photograph and would guess that my great-grandfather handed his camera to a stranger to push the button. It is his writing beneath the image, so the negative must have been his, and looking at the reverse, it was never sent, but my grandmother wrote everyone’s name. I wonder if he printed a number of these and sent them back to the family who stayed in Wales to let them know they had made it to America, and what they looked like aboard the Cedric. I am grateful that my grandmother wrote her brother’s names on the card as I knew they were Mark and Doug, but seeing the card realize that Mark was named after his father. My grandmother wrote in her own style, and at some point I will have it analyzed to see what it tells of her character, and how much of it I remember, and what I might not have recognized. As I type this note on a keyboard I am aware that the words only have the meaning that they are given in a general sense, and the emotion that is carried by the handwritten line is missing. For this also I am grateful that my grandmother used a pen.

One hundred years after this photograph was made, I hold it in my hand and am amazed to have a postcard sent from so long a distance, in space as well as time.

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One Response to “Images and the Thread of Memory”

  1. Great post, Jim! It inspired me to upload one of my most treasured photos of my Mom as a child.

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