What’s In A Photo? Considering Memories and Nostalgia.

Isn’t it curious how we can look back at old photos through the lens of the present and form a completely new world in our minds from the aesthetics of the past? I was thinking about this the other day. I was sitting in my truck outside of the gym randomly sifting through my old photos. I guess I was procrastinating going in to start my work out, when I came across photos from this past Christmas. What caught my attention was the photo of our living room. It was the first Christmas between my fiancé and I. Christmas is her favorite holiday so we had to get the house looking just right for that particular jovial Christmas feel. As my eyes darted across the pictures, I noticed all of the wonderful details we worked to create, with the abundantly decorated tree with presents underneath. Right next to the tree was the tv playing a fireplace background video on Youtube. We already had a stocking up and there were nutcrackers and reindeer by the fireplace. And, of course to top it all off was our precious black cat sitting under it all looking all cozy without a care in the world. I remember chuckling when I looked at the date of the photo- November 7th. She was insistent on spreading the Christmas joy as early as possible and I love her for it. We had that blissful space for over two months, as we didn’t take the decorations down till mid-January.

               That photo certainly captured a time, and while the photo filled me with a certain nostalgia, it was funny how peaceful and calm the aesthetic of the room made me feel. Yes, Christmas decorations can be naturally peaceful and calming, but I certainly was anything but those things during the actual time the photo was taken. This past cold season was a harsh one. I remember my job was at a particularly stressful point as things were naturally busier and more chaotic with the holiday seasons. Anybody who works in the medical field knows about the end of the year boom. I started thinking back to that time and I can remember sitting in the living room, amidst all of the warm, inviting décor and not really taking in any of it. My mind was anywhere but the present. I remember my mind was almost constantly in a frenzied state in thinking and anticipating the future, in what might come up at work and meeting deadlines. Looking back at the photo six months later, it was like I was able to remove the anxiety from the immediate moment of that time and simply enjoy it from a detached, yet mindful and reimagined point of view. I thought how ironic it is that I can enjoy the scenery of our home more now than when it actually occurred. It’s like I was able to really take in the detail and intrigue of the space more so from the future looking back through a photograph than when I was actually there in that moment. How sad, I thought, that so many moments have passed me by without me ever being truly present or mindful in them. Maybe that’s why I love photography and capturing every moment. Maybe photography for me is not just capturing a moment, but creating the ability to relive it again and again, through the filters and lenses of our lives and wherever we happen to be. It this part of what nostalgia is?

               I sat in my truck just pondering the idea of nostalgia for a moment. It’s funny how we look back at old memories through rose-tinted glasses. So often we tend to remove the complexity of that moment, of all of the inner turmoil and anxiety and hardships of that time, and refabricate the memory until it is sterile and stripped of its time in order to turn it into a fantasy. And perhaps these fantasies can serve us in the present moment. It was nice to look back to that time. Of course, it wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t a utopian fantasy or a Christmas movie either. But in the present, it sure looked like one, and maybe that is what I needed sitting in my truck outside of the gym.

Maybe I just needed to escape for a second into the fantasy of my own life and the precious memories they contain. It certainly filled me with gratitude. Maybe that little moment served as a reflective time to consider how precious and fleeting each moment is. I love photography, but I don’t want to have to rely on it to fully take in any one moment. I want to take in each moment as it happens. I have found that that is the key to so much of what I consider happiness or fulfillment. It is just being present and seeing what is right in front of me without any pretense, judgment, or consuming thoughts. I am certainly working on that. That photo seems so long ago, like another life. Perhaps because it was. Because so much has changed and I have grown, even in this short span of time, and the fact that it feels so distant is a reflection of my own journey through this life and where it has taken me. And in a weird way, it makes me feel nostalgic for the present moment.

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