As a young child, I was always intrigued by the collections of items people would keep in their house, and even now, I have this same fascination. The child within me always desired to keep a book full of puffy stickers, a perfect collection of postage stamps, or a whole wall of rare and collectible books. I had a few stuffed animals and wanted a collection to cover my bed or be netted into a corner of my room for space saving. Instead I learned to write and collect my dreams in poetry, stories, song. Reading and writing gave me a place to explore the curious world of people in my own way.
Collecting things, tangible objects and items, just to collect them wasn’t really encouraged in my home. Mom collected bears and dog stuff for a while, things that meant something to her. Friends of the family collected a wide variety of items from glasses, lamps, Precious Moments figurines, dolls and angels, bears, bottle caps, rusty odds and ends, to their child’s every drawing, expensive paintings, rare baseball cards, art, and more. Some people I knew even got to the point of compulsive hoarding, a family I knew having shelves along literally every wall, completely covered in random items from magazines and records to balls of yarn and containers of play-doh. However, it was the photograph collectors that always made me the most curious. People kept walls of photos, boxes of photos, whole rooms dedicated to safekeeping them at times.
Photos weren’t really a part of my home, not actively. We had school pictures taken, distributed to friends and family members and then put away in a box for whenever mom got around to framing them, which didn’t really happen. No framed displays of love and affection lined our smoke stained walls or the bookshelves we had around our home. Our little Kodak 35mm film camera collected dust on a shelf most of the time, only really pulled out on the holidays. We had a Polaroid camera given to us as a gift and it was a novelty for a little while. Film wasn’t on the list of priorities on the “must buy” list in a poverty stricken household.
I loved taking pictures and was always so curious when I’d be at the park or church and everyday people, not really photographers, would take random pictures of things, people, places, most especially before the digital era. I would walk into my friends and relatives houses and they would have whole walls dedicated to photos of their children through the years, 20-30 year old pictures of family members that passed or had changed in time, and even photos of their pets. We just… didn’t have any photos framed or put up… or mom would say, “Oh, I meant to buy a frame for that.” (I know where I get my best procrastinating from, that’s for sure). My favorites, the most emotional and inspiring, were always the photos that weren’t posed “just right”, that were taken on the fly during a wonderful, loving moment. It just seemed a foreign concept to me for a long time that people would purposefully go out and have photos done in some studio, just for a photo to place on their wall, as a cataloging of age and time. We rarely did studio portraits growing up.
As I grew older, I understood more, the need to capture family, children, and loved ones in time. Not only the need to take those photos and collect them, but to display them as well. Relatives pass away and people move on in life. Every situation is temporary and photos have this way of holding on to certain chapters of our lives, and making them real for us once more. When we’re getting up in years and not able to get around as well as we once did, pulling out old photographs makes us feel young again with the memories that swirl around and tug at our hearts. And when people visit a home where photos are carefully placed on walls, on shelves, on the tops of entertainment stands, they start to feel like family as they look through all the special moments that have defined one person’s life. That’s why I became a more “unusual” photographer. I want the photos I take to be remembered as “a really fun unique” experience. Not a stuffy cataloging of age and time, but rather a reflection of inner bonds, strength, courage, and the character of life.
Just before I got married to my now ex husband, his father had a fire in their home. Russ and his wife Judy collected a lot of things. Her favorite was angels in all shapes and sizes, and he collected Budweiser beer steins. The first floor of their Michigan home was covered in these collectibles, along with so many photos, it’s amazing that I knew what the wallpaper looked like. It was well organized chaos. The fire took almost everything, devouring the collection of angels, and damaging the beer steins so that they were unrecognizable. Most of the photos were gone. Generations of memories, obliterated in a single electrical fire, which, thankfully, didn’t hurt a single person.
It put into perspective for me, that collecting things is not nearly as important as collecting good memories with good people. Life is short and, even photographs, can be temporary. I think that’s why I collect my dreams in a journal and hold them close to my heart, and I take photos for the world to enjoy, putting that heart on my sleeve. We all collect something. Collecting things gives us purpose, gives us focus, and can be a primary reflection of our personality. Just remember… it’s all temporary. We can’t take it with us.
Photo of the day: During a recent photo session, I happened to capture some spontaneous sisterhood. It was wonderful. 🙂