I have always loved photographs. They seem like magic to me. I clearly remember the first photo I ever shot.
It was shortly after Christmas, 1957. I was five years old. We did not have a camera in the house until that Christmas morning, when a Kodak Brownie (Holiday Flash) appeared under the tree with the other gifts. It was not a gift for me, but a gift for the family. My father loaded the 12-exposure roll of black + white film, attached the flash contraption, inserted the explosive bulb, and took the first shot – of me and my brothers (in our pajamas) standing among the gifts piled around a decorated cedar tree planted in a washtub by the big window in the living room.
When Christmas was over, there were two shots left on the roll. One morning, my mother and I were sitting in rocking chairs by the fireplace, and she decided to use the last two shots so she could send the roll off to be developed. She took one of me …
…and I took one of her.
It is now more than half a century later and my mother has passed from this world, but I still have the photo that I took of her that morning. It brings me comfort. I’ve heard that a good photograph contains part of the photographer and the photographer’s unique perspective. This photo was from my perspective as a five year old child looking up at my mother. It captured and preserved a perfect moment in time. To me, it reflects who and what I was and what she was to me. Time had not yet separated us.
The next year I would start to school and begin the inevitable process of growing up and away from her – but at that moment, we were still constant companions. She was my world – and I knew that she loved me more than anything. While my brothers were at school and my father was at work, I had her all to myself. On winter mornings, we sat in front of the fireplace and had a delightful time together. We built cars and cradles from oatmeal boxes, thread spools and broom straw. We filled coloring books with vivid Crayola colors. We sewed doll clothes from scraps of fabric left over from the clothes she made for me. We played paper dolls. She read to me. I stood on a chair in the kitchen and helped her cook. I sat on the bench beside her and helped her play the piano. We sang songs. We sang lots of songs. And every night when the lights went out, she told me a story. She reached across the small space between her bed and mine and held my hand until I drifted peacefully to sleep, knowing that I was safe from the frightening creatures – and equally frightening uncertainties – that were lurking in the darkness.
I see the world today from a different perspective shaped by time, experience and the intrusion of reality upon childhood innocence. But when I look at that photo, I am magically transported back in time to that day. Once again I can see, hear, smell, taste and feel everything that surrounded me in that moment.
In that photo, it will always be 1957. My mother will always be 35 years old and I will always be five. We will always be best friends sitting by the fire in our rocking chairs and learning to use that little brown magic picture box. I feel safe, warm, and loved – exactly as I felt in the instant that I saw her in the viewfinder and snapped that first shot.
The photo is crooked, the lighting is awful, and the composition is dreadful. Nonetheless, sometimes a photo is much more than a photo — especially to the photographer.
I have always loved photographs.