People take photographs for many reasons. For the most part, people take pictures to record an event in their past. They are most commonly taken at big events like a wedding or a family vacation. Others take pictures so they do not forget the past. I was never interested in pictures. I always hated posing for one, never looked through photo albums made by family or friends, and never actually spent more than ten seconds looking at an individual shot. In fact, before writing this essay, Ive never looked at the countless photo albums on Facebook with pictures of me. When I started looking for a picture to write about, I had no idea what I was looking for.
No picture had ever been ???special??? to me. However, when I uncovered this particular photograph not only was I taken in by the breathtaking scenery, a thousand things started running through my head. That was when I realized what a photograph has the potential to do. They make one remember exactly what was happening the moment the picture was taken. They can overflow the senses with sights, smells and sounds. Photos can bring back memories that were in the distant past and make you feel connected to your past.
Before I describe this photograph in any detail, I should give some background on the circumstances under which it was taken. For thirteen months I lived in Chile as an exchange student. It was by far the most exciting thirteen months of my life. I travelled throughout the country, even across the border into Argentina, Peru and Brazil. All without parents. Out of the hundreds of pictures I have of my time there, this one picture elicits the strongest of emotions. All these fond memories I have of what seems to be a past life far off in the distance came rushing back.
This picture was taken in Punta Arenas, Chile on January 17, 2006. I was on an organized exchange student vacation to the southern-most city in the world, Punta Arenas. There were twenty-three exchange student and two Chilean chaperones. Everyone was lined up on the riverbank that runs in front of Torres del Paine. The grouping of mountains with peaks that disappeared into the looming dark gray clouds, the odd gray color of the river, the rolling plains running for miles in every direction all contributed to the perfect background for the group photo.
As I took in the scenery, I began to remember so much more about that day. The smell of fresh pure air, the taste of glacier water that was so popular down there, and the sight of masses of penguins that were waddling around all came rushing back to me. Above all else, I recall the deafening wind that roared at 50 miles per hour and the intense cold that forced everyone to wear four or five layers of clothing. To this day, I can still feel the wind burning my uncovered face. Then I glanced at all the people lined up in the picture. I recognized everyone even though I couldnt place some names at first.
I then started staring at every one in the picture individually, taking time to remember each and every one of my now distant friends. From Luke, the guy who helped me make it through the first month with a huge grin and an uplifting remark to Francesca who I spent the majority of my time there with. Together we travelled the continent just experiencing the good and the bad of South America. From getting robbed to running out of money to partying on a beach until dawn, we never left each others side. Next I noticed Maria Ester Lopez who began as my host mother and ended up as my second mom. Other than my parents, I do not think anyone cares more about me than her. Even though I am not her son, she treats me like one of her own. She was the driving force in my learning of Spanish.
I took my time remembering everyone else in that picture; I spent almost two hours just reminiscing about everything I experienced with them. I felt like I was in Chile all over again reliving the best moments of my life. Most pictures do not make me feel anything.
There was never anything that I considered ???special??? about a particular picture. To me, almost all my pictures look the same. There is always a group of people lined up, with their best fake smile trying to show the world how happy they are. I never understood why someone would say that they love a certain picture. I have always felt that pictures are unimportant and that they were boring to look at. After having found this picture however, my feelings changed completely. This particular picture has become important to me in many ways.
It brings back memories of another (more exciting) life, friends I may never have the opportunity to see again, and reminds me of who I was before my life there and who I have evolved into today. Moreover, it helps me feel connected with everyone else in the photo. When I look at this photograph I know that particular moment was shared by everyone I miss and that when they look at me in this picture, a thousand memories rush back into their head. As I reminisce about who I used to be, I remember myself as a naive, shy, suburban teen.
Today, I see myself as worldly, outgoing and able to adapt to any environment. I have thousands, perhaps millions of memories of my time in Chile. Over the years, they have all started to fade together. At this point, I remember my general feeling towards people or places more than specific activities or conversations. Pictures can help one remember all the specific details about an important moment in ones life. The visual cues that a picture contain can help bring back vivid, life like memories of the past.
Over the past few days, I have learned a lot about the profound influence a photograph can have on a person. Just a few days ago, I would never think about going through a photo album looking at pictures. Now, however, that is the first thing I want to do when I get home to where all my childhood albums are. Photographs can help one remember a specific event in detail, reminisce about a better time in life, provide a means to introspect on their life, and even help one feel connected to others in a photograph. Pictures are a very important aspect of reminiscing about the past.