The Photo Opp Not Taken

The Photo Opp Not Taken

In the era of snapping a shot anytime, anyplace, with whatever device is on hand, it occurs to me that the most poignant memories from my childhood do not have accompanying pictures. Yes, we did have cameras way back then, but the act of capturing moments was largely reserved for holidays, vacations and school portraits. Everyday places and events were, for the most part, uncaptured. Too mundane, too inconsequential or just too ugly to photograph, those memories remain exclusively in my mind, a private movie surprisingly sweet, vivid and (I assume) accurate. The backyard with the huge apple tree and stacked flagstone patio which served as a stage for our many productions; the glamorous beach-towel evening gowns we designed and modeled next to the rubber raft swimming pool; the dingy green “haunted” house next door, with ragged gray curtains blowing eerily in paneless windows–these are the images that come to mind when I look back, though not a single one exists in any photo album.

My son would hardly believe that we could have horses and not photograph them even once when he begs me to take pictures of him daily with his horse. (We have more photos of his mare than my entire childhood put together.) Our humble paperboard barn, back then, was hardly picture-worthy, and our horses, Blitz and Spooky, were undoubtedly prettier in memory than in reality. The Barn, as we called it (all of our favorite places seemed to have titles), was a rural haven fifteen minutes from our in-town house, where we daily played Little House on the Prairie, jumped in hay piles, waded in the creek, and rode our saddleless ponies. All without a single picture. If it weren’t for the corroboration of my sister and dad, I might have dreamt the whole thing up.

Life now is a series of one skilled shot after another, showcasing one accomplishment or another, posted on one social media platform or another. If it’s not out there for all the world to see, it might as well not exist. So why do my pictureless memories seem somehow more real? Is it possible that this is precisely where magic dwells, in the intangible, timeless Neverland of memory, with images far too vivid to be merely dreams, where past meets present, and meaning is intrinsically attached to the pictures in our minds?

I wouldn’t trade those photo opps not taken for all the Facebook tags in the world.

By Gretchen Hayduk-Wroblewski


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