There is shortcut file on my computer desktop titled, “My Life in Photos”.
This is a fairly unusual file to be maintained by a person who is well-known among all her friends and family, to hide her face from every camera. (“Point that camera at me,” I have been heard to say, “and I will turn you into a frog.” And, if they persist, I instruct, “Start picking out your lily pad!”)
The simple truth is that I take horrifically bad pictures. Some individuals are gifted with just that flawless bone structure, that enviable arrangement of facial features, so that the play of light and shadow in the two-dimensional image of a photo results in loveliness. In fact, years ago when I lived in Charleston, I knew such a woman. To meet her on the street, one would have said she was plain, even unattractive. Yet in photographs, even without makeup, her face was striking and remarkable.
I am not such a woman. I’m as plain as the proverbial mud fence—except in photographs, in which I look like a bowl of undercooked oatmeal.
So for me to have a file representing the highlights of my 64 years of life through photographic evidence is not only unusual, but was damned difficult to assemble. Nevertheless, I put it together and am even now in the process of turning it into a PowerPoint show, a storytelling event, eventually to be (I hope, and when I’ve acquired a few technical skills now absent) recreated as a video slide show, complete with music.
But the important aspect of this project is the reason I am doing it: because, several times in the past years, I’ve had to hunt through my collections of photographs for pictures of friends or family members who have recently died. To do this is to be assaulted by mixed emotions—heavy feelings that are hard to bear when one is already grieving. Each time, too, I’ve wondered if the pictures I’ve chosen were the ones that this person would really have wanted to represent her life. Which of these, I pondered, would have been her favorite photo of herself?
Which might she not have really much liked? Is this a photo she would have preferred had never been taken? An event she wanted to forget?
And while the act of looking through old photographs was wondrous and painful, time constraints limited what might have been a nostalgic journey through another’s life. The photos had to be located and selected quickly to be prepared for a funeral or memorial service. There just wasn’t time to pick the perfect set of pictures to represent someone’s entire existence on this earth.
And so, for my survivors, this job will be already done. The photos will be chosen, the stories behind each of them told. The one photo of my adult self that I have ever truly liked will be there and labeled as such; the events that I saw as the highlights of my existence will be arranged chronologically. If others choose to add to those memories with photographs representing memories of their own, they’ll be free to do so. But the difficult work of recreating the important moments of my life will be done.
It will be a special and loving farewell to those I love best, demonstrating how much I cared for them: that there exists an album of photographs of the woman who, always and forever, simply hated to have her picture taken.