I‘ve always loved photography. Among my friends, I was always the one with a camera on hand to take pictures of everything and anything, then rush to the one-hour photo counter to eagerly wait for the photos to develop. Afterwards, I put together dozens of albums and scrapbooks so I could always go back and relive each moment.
So I guess it wouldn’t be surprising to know that my passion for photography reached new heights when my husband and I started our family. The shift to digital cameras also allowed me to indulge. No longer was I limited to 24-images per roll. I could easily take hundreds of photos on any given day—and save every single one of them on multiple hard drives. Around the same time, I joined Facebook; soon I became one of those annoying people who posts hundreds of pictures of their babies eating, sleeping, smiling and sitting.
I blame my husband, at least a little. After all, he was the one who bought me my first digital SLR camera. Once I moved up from the simple point-and-shoot, there was no turning back. I bought books, read websites, watched tutorials. I took online workshops and classes, learning to shoot in manual mode. I understood the ins and outs of the exposure triangle; aperture, shutter speed, and ISO became a way I framed everything I saw. I joined photography forums and online communities. I discovered the difference between what makes a great portrait lens (85mm) versus a great storytelling lens (28mm). I learned how to process images digitally using Adobe Photoshop before I moved exclusively to using Adobe Lightroom. I participated in professional photography challenges and contests (and was even featured in a few!).
At some point, I think I had amassed more than 50,000 images on one hard drive alone. Here, for example, are a few of my favorites (you can view more on my woefully neglected photography website).
More than anything, what I loved most about photography was documenting my boys’ lives. Photography was my way of stopping time before they got too big. One of my favorite photography quotes is this one by American photographer Aaron Siskind:
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.
Long after you have forgotten everything. I’ve always had a certain weakness for nostalgia. Thus, each photograph was my way of making sure I didn’t forget all the small everyday moments of their childhoods.
Most people who know me wouldn’t describe me as emotional or touchy-feely. Although I like to think of myself as an empathetic and compassionate person, I’m not sure that those are the first words that anyone would use to describe me. I’m not the first person to reach in for a hug, I keep my personal life generally personal, and my natural disposition as an introvert tends to come across a little standoffish. I’m passionate, especially about my teaching and my students, and I think that comes across in the work I do every day. But there are the people you meet who instantly exude warmth and openness—and I’m just not one of those people.
So maybe photography was my way of expressing the part of me that I generally keep guarded. When I look back at the thousands of photographs I’ve taken, nearly all of them are of other people, and mostly my children. I appear in very few. But I know that I’m there. I’m there in the way I frame each image, the way I capture a particular moment or feeling. I’m there in the way I try to gather up all those small moments so that they can never be forgotten.
Unfortunately—or perhaps inevitably—I haven’t picked up my camera very much in the last year and a half or so. There are a lot of reasons for this. As the boys have gotten older—especially now that all three of them are in school—I’m busy with all the after-school activities, homework, music lessons, and sports practices that take up more and more time. And of course, there’s teaching. Although teaching has always been time-consuming, I’ve recently tapped into a renewed sense of purpose and agency when it comes to improving myself as a teacher and professional. The energy and passion I had for photography has shifted firmly in the direction of my classroom and my students. Between teaching, writing, reading, and working with my local writing project, there’s simply less time. There are only so many hours in a day, I remind myself, and something has to give.
But there’s something else, too.
I become all too aware of moments not captured, but moments gone…
Part of the reason I haven’t picked up my camera is that it’s just too hard. It’s too hard for me to look at all the pictures I’ve taken. Why? They make me too sad. I’ve captured all these moments, but now every time I see them, I feel a little pain inside. I see the details in each picture—that extra chubby wrinkle in the crook of an arm or the curling of toddler toes—and I become all too aware of moments not captured, but moments gone. When I see pictures of Matthew, our oldest, I’m reminded not just of how much taller he is now, but also the way his face has changed, the way his eyes don’t quite have the same carefree innocence. He’ll be 11 in a few months and off to middle school next year. I can almost see what he may look like when he’s as old as the students I teach. And so picture after picture, image after image, it’s a little heartbreaking. (This is also why I really dislike Facebook’s “on this day x years ago…” feature that forces me to travel back down memory lane even if I don’t to.)
I often joke with the boys that I’m secretly working on some sort of freezing / shrinking ray that I’ll use to either keep them from growing up or make them little again. Usually they roll their eyes at me, but I’ve noticed that they tend to snuggle a little closer to me each time. I don’t want to regret not having pictures of the boys growing up. Some of my favorite family memories were captured by my mom and dad, and for that I’ll always be grateful. So in a lot of ways, these pictures aren’t just for me, but for them—a way for them to remember, too.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.