The most important photos may not be what you think

Karen Fisher-Alaniz, whom I interviewed here about her memoir, Breaking the Code, had a shock recently. The diner where she and her father sat and talked each Wednesday is going to close. This was where Karen worked on getting her father to talk about his WWII past, where she worked on bonding with her dad. Memories. Memories that made it into her book. Fortunately, she has photos.

I figured out that some of the most important photos are not the family portraits where everyone pastes on a smile, not the school pictures, maybe not even the staged wedding photos (especially not these days where divorce is common). The most meaningful photos are the ones that show personalities and what is important to our lives, the pictures of our everyday lives.

What is it your family members like to do, what are they known for? I have photos of my dad working a puzzle, my mom trimming a bonsai, my mom-in-law cooking—and my dad-in-law happily holding a plate full of her comfort food. I love the pictures of one daughter asleep cuddling a cat and another fluffing the floppy ears of her dog. I love the photo of my dad-in-law working on his tractor. And there’s the pic of my mom in her beloved 15-year-old car with only 30,000 miles on it, taken just before it was sold to retire in the country. My daughter with her beloved yellow Mustang before it was totaled on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Don’t forget to take pictures of the front of houses you’ve lived in.

I met fine arts photographer David Coblitz at my booksigning this past Saturday and had a good time looking through his art loaded on his iPad. He doesn’t advertise he takes portraits for bios, but he should because somehow he captures personality. It’s hard, he says, because people feel awkward at photo shoots and he has to get them comfortable and into character. Most of us bawk and feel self-conscious when anyone points a camera our way.

Most portraits won’t capture personality, and we’re better off catching our beloveds right in the middle of doing what they love. Let the picture tell a story.


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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6 Responses to The most important photos may not be what you think

  1. I agree,Linda,candid shots tell the best stories, people involved in doing what they love to do. The real key is to have that camera ready at just the right time to capture those moments. BTW, your new website looks the cherry blossom background!

  2. That’s true, Kathleen, gotta have that camera convenient. Mine is often left on the dining room table. Thanks for the website compliment!

  3. Linda, some of the best pictures can evoke an essay, not just a caption.

  4. You are so right, Linda. Those kinds of photos are real treasures. They ought to be put into a memoir, or at least a scrapbook, before the stories get lost. I think scrapbooks ought to capture stories, too, like mini-lifewriting.

  5. Linda,
    I love your new website!!

    Your post about the “Alzheimer’s Effect” book is very interesting–and heartfelt, as I read about your visit with your Mom.

    Learning about Alzheimer’s was a wise decision, Linda.


  6. Doris, Good to hear from you! And now I’m following your blog again via WordPress – still figuring things out here.

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