Friday, April 17, 2015

What Your Photos Really Capture

Late last week, my social media channels were flooded with photos of my friends with their siblings. According to everyone on Facebook, it was National Siblings Day. I didn't even know this day existed until last week but then again why should I be surprised when there's a day for everything, from grandparents to jelly beans!

I enjoyed all the nostalgic photos posted and the sentimental write ups to honor all the wonderful brothers and sisters my Facebook and Twitter friends have. But I also have to admit that I felt a bit alienated and yes, even jealous after seeing all those sibling pictures.


I was scrambling to find a good photo of myself with my older sister and 'baby' brother until I realized that I don't have any with me, except for the one above. That was taken in the late 1970s, if I'm not mistaken. My sister was probably in first grade and I was in nursery school (the equivalent of pre-K). Here I am in my 40s, living in a foreign country and I really don't have any recent photos of the three of us.

It's not because we're not in good terms. On the contrary, we have nothing but respect and love for each other and I would never trade them for any other sibling in the world. The real reason why I don't have a photo of us is because the three of us have not been physically together since the late 1990s.

My sister left the Philippines to live and pursue graduate studies in Chicago with her family in the late 1990s. My brother and I were together in Manila at the time.

In 2004, I left Manila to go to Chicago for a vacation and never came back. Two sisters in the U.S., a brother left in the Philippines.

In 2008-2009, my sister left the U.S. for good to go back home to the Philippines. I was left here in the U.S., with my brother and sister back home together. 

This means our last photo together might be from the mid-90s and of course I don't have any proof of that because all our family photo albums are in Manila, at my parents' house. Any migrant, especially those who have moved internationally, understands this sad reality and each of us have our own ways of compensating for this sense of 'lost' history. 

After feeling sorry for myself for the lack of 'proof' to display on National Siblings Day, I was left to ponder on my need for photographs. 

We take pictures to attest to certain realities. In as much as pictures are taken as proof of a certain event, they are in themselves proof of a human being's desire to immortalize a memory. We take pictures to aid our memory, to help us preserve an event. In the end though, the basic truth is that photos represent our desire to have some proof of a relationship, whether it's to a person, thing, place or event.

As a migrant, I don't have this privilege of having complete tangible documentation of all of my most valuable relationships. I cannot rely on photos to serve as anchors of my identity. As a matter of fact, migrants like myself would probably tell you that a valuable lesson we've learned is to be able to more easily let go of material anchors for our memories and emotions. Instead, an important skill for us is to internalize that memories and relationships can occupy more valuable real estate in our minds and hearts, rather than on shelves in our homes. We had to develop the ability to carry what's important wherever we go, without necessarily adding more tangible or physical weight. 

The greatest lesson for me has been to focus on how an event, or a memory, has shaped me, more than simply holding on to tangible proofs such as photos. 

I AM THE PROOF

Every event, every memory is within me and has shaped me into who I am today. All the love, the happiness, pain, regret, desire or sense of loss that a picture may evoke are already either inside of me, or released after transforming me. 

Often times people take pictures without truly being in the moment, focusing instead on the mere desire to keep a souvenir, or perhaps even obsessing on how it would look once posted on social media. I'm guilty of the same, sometimes. But now I do try to remind myself, especially when it has to do with my son or some other memorable event. Go ahead and take pictures. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to capture a moment. Just make sure you are not missing out on the present by focusing too much on what you want to offer the future. As you capture images, focus too on how that image, that experience, is capturing you. In the end, it's really those feelings that will last and not what's on paper or your hard drive. 













12 comments:

  1. Really really lovely post! I hope the three of you get a photo together in the very near future.

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    1. Thanks so much. And I REALLY hope so too cos it's just been too long, right? :-(

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  2. This is such a unique perspective. Very well done! Often at my son's sporting events, I see parents so intent on photographing and videotaping that they aren't even watching what's going on. It's so important to be present! Have a great weekend Joy!

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    1. Yes, indeed, Lana. I'm guilty of the same sometimes during my son's school activities and I constantly need to remind myself, jolt myself even, so that I enjoy every minute of it. Thanks for your thoughts :-))

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  3. Wish we could take a picture again, the three of us with Mom and Dad.

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    1. WE WILL, Bro. I'm confident. It's a bit of planning but I have faith it will happen. xoxo Love and miss you!!

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  4. Gosh I so agree. After losing my entire digital library collection of photos I really started to assess why I placed such a high value on photos, what they were worth, and how I could deal with the loss. In the end I came to the realisation that like you the memories are within me and that I need to rely less on photos to remind me of things and more on my memory and enjoying the actual experience as it happens. After that I recovered some of my photos haha

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    1. Ouch, that's painful, Janine!...to lose an entire collection! But I guess these things happen to really 'reboot' us and force us to shift our perspective on things. Thank you! xoxo

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  5. Terrific post Joy and a great reminder that I think we all needed to hear. I snap pictures a lot more often than I did when my kids and I were younger maybe because it is easier with our phones and with social media, but I don't think I pay as close attention to why as I should! Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Thank you, Rena. I guess we all needed some reminding ;-))

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  6. I don't have many photos either because I was the 6th kid. My parents stopped/forgot/ or more likely just got too damn busy to take picture. Plus we looked a lot a like anyhow.

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  7. I really like this post. Being in the moment vs capturing it on film is something that I struggle with. Most times I am quite good at doing both, but there are times when it is best to just put the camera away.I hope that you will have an opportunity for a family reunion soon Joy - whether or not you photograph the event!

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Let me know your thoughts!