Do our photos keep us locked in the past, or give us a greater sense of the journey?
I once met a Bulgarian woman when I was travelling. We were skipping around the Greek Isles somewhere, and I asked her to take a photo of my wife and I, sunning ourselves on the yacht.
I asked her if she wanted me to take a photo of her.
She said she didn’t like photos.
I’m thinking, comes from Bulgaria. Doesn’t come up well in photos. Obviously a vampire.
But she bats away my hand when I try to drive a silver dagger into her heart, and laughs. No nothing like that. She says she doesn’t like photos because they anchor her in the past.
She wants to stay in the moment – or as close to the moment as she can get. Photos and memorabilia are just a burden from the past that pull her away from the moment and back into her own history.
And so she doesn’t have any photos of herself. They exist in other people’s Facebook accounts and so on, but apart from her passport photo and drivers’ license, she doesn’t have a single photo of herself. There’s probably some at her mother’s house.
I find it fascinating. I mean I could get it. We all have the capacity to rewrite our own stories. Re-cast ourselves into whatever we want to be – more courageous, more out-going, more savvy with money, whatever.
It’s useful to remember that our personalities are nothing but tendencies. Nothing is fixed. Don’t let who you were determine who you are or who you could be.
We are all capable of change. That’s what’s makes life exciting.
But I’d just never met anyone who had taken it to such extremes before. And personally I’m quite fond of all the memorabilia I have lying around the house – photos, awards, a photocopy of the title to my first investment property, framed and hung up in the kitchen.
But she says, “What do you care? They’re artefacts from someone else’s life. There isn’t a single cell in your body that is older than 7 years old. That version of you that existed 20 years ago is a totally different conglomeration of matter.
You may as well be looking at a picture of an elephant.
There are a few photos where I look like an elephant, I say, but they’re from my younger, wilder days. And it’s not entirely true, either. Memories exist in the filing cabinet of my mind, and every so often, when the memory comes, I write out a new copy and put it back in the cabinet.
It is true that no physical part of my mind is older than 7 years old, but the memories, get written and re-written by my inner admin-lady, and passed down through time.
In many ways, my memories use the different physical incarnations of me to hand themselves down. I am a just a temporary vehicle for my memories.
And I kind of like that. I love looking at old pictures of myself and trying to connect who I am now to whoever it was that was captured in that photo. To sift back through the various evolutions of Jon Giaan, to whatever drives and beliefs that younger man held back then.
For me it’s like climbing a mountain, and looking back at the village I’d left a few hours before. I get a sense of the journey, and that sense is often satisfying.
There’s ups and downs there too. Sometimes I look back at old sporting photos – when I was in my definite prime, and it is like looking back at some peak so much higher and more majestic than where I stand now, with my fading eyes and rickety knees.
That’s bitter-sweet, but I still enjoy the sense of journey. And life is most satisfying to think of as a journey – not as a graduation through various levels, or as a trophy cabinet of achievements. A journey – a path that has its ups and downs, good times and bad.
There’s a sense of peace in this idea. It keeps me from taking the rough times too hard. I can just say, oh well, this particular stretch of the journey is just a bit shitty. It’s raining and the frogs are a bit stinky. But it’s a journey, and around the next corner will be something new.
There always is.
And in a way, looking back at the old versions of myself captured in those photos is a kind of ancestor worship.
I know the things those men were wrestling with. I know that they were working hard to set up the life that I am now enjoying. They were putting time into my financial strategy to get the material side of life sorted, and they were working on my mindset so I would have the awareness of mind to enjoy the good times when they came to me.
I’m eating the fruit of the trees that they planted.
And so there’s a lot to be grateful for. I tip my hat and say thanks guys, great job. You made this life and it’s awesome. Thanks heaps. I owe you a beer.
Time also gives me perspective on my faults – the vanities I used to carry, the dick I was being to people, that haircut. With a bit of space, I can see my own faults with a bit more compassion.
And that reminds me to be a bit more gentle with myself now. The parts of me that irk me most right now, will, with the benefit of hindsight, be not such a big deal. No pointing beating current-moment Jon Giaan up about it.
So I don’t know. I get where this Bulgarian woman was coming from. I can see that it would be a radical and powerful practice. But I like the photos and little mementos I have in my life.
I asked her if I could take a photo of her to remind me of the conversation.
She said sure. In a few moments I’ll be a different woman and that woman just won’t care.
She was a strange woman.
Probably a vampire.
How do you relate to your photos?