Friends & Ghosts


“It is only later, when we look back over our lives, that we are confronted with the terrible reality of what we have done, which is not to have captured our loved ones, but to have rendered with permanence their position in our lives as having been, but also as being no more.”
~Lying to Tell the Truth (Adam Bogert, May 2011)

This weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of two beautiful friends in southern New Jersey. Hard on financial luck as of late, my gift to the new couple was to be a photo booth of sorts at the reception — a camera, a tripod, a picturesque lakeside backdrop, and a willingness to refrain from socializing in the main events until after dinner. I was more than happy to oblige.

Weddings tend to reunite friends and acquaintances who have been out of touch for months, years (and, I doubt not, decades for the older set). It’s an odd sensation, that unfamiliar familiarity, the uncanny “i know you, but we don’t know each other at all.” Perhaps it’d be better were we enemies, because then our relationship would be more clearly defined than “we’ll get along quite well today, but tomorrow recommences our complete lack of communication. We move in different spheres.”

Sad, but not terribly; after all, it’s a wedding: joy abounds.

Later, though, I had the job of remembering, as I pieced together the album and decided how best to make it available to the people in it. I opted for Facebook, and over the next couple days the various forms of acknowledgment began to pour in. People would comment delightedly on this or that picture, and Facebook would nicely tell me how they’d gotten there: friends with the bride, friends with the groom; mutual friends through some other attendee.

And I noticed, of course, a few friends who were mutual but not personal; names which once graced my own list but had since (and this was news) departed.

I guess it’s just an odd feeling, finding out after the fact that someone isn’t your friend anymore — it makes no sense outside of the confines of a digital farce. You can’t just misplace relationships. A person whose departure from your life you didn’t mark well is a person who really wasn’t in your life to begin with. They may not be your friend anymore, but then they never were. It makes one wonder: how many of my current friends, well, aren’t?

A consequence of my decision to use Facebook for sharing my photos was the haphazard “launch” of a heretofore stagnating official photography page, and I’ve been spending the beginning of this week playing catch-up: researching prices, polishing mission statements and services, and — most importantly — pulling together a portfolio from the scores of thousands of photos I’ve taken for the last five years.

And that’s where I found the ghosts.

How many relationships did I document the rise and fall of without knowing it? How many couples did I capture in love, only to look back at them and realize they’re no longer together? How many friends were in my inner circle, only to drift to the outskirts of memory in coming years? How many names can’t I remember? How many don’t I want to?

I discovered yesterday the true weight of what I wrote last year in a late-term rush of enthusiastic writing, the validity of an analysis that, then, was almost distant and pedantic. What I called a “terrible reality” truly is terrible, worse than I might have guessed, compacted by a year of emptiness which made the fullness of the past I’ve lost all the more terrible.

To review a single play hurts a little bit. To review them all was a task I found myself almost incapable of handling. Such, I suppose, is the cost of emotional investment in anything. If nothing else I can be certain that I truly loved what I was doing at Grove City for those four years; pain like this can’t be generated by disinterested participation.

What really hurt, though, was trying to be objective; discerning between images that resonated with me and ones which actually showcased specific aptitude in my craft. Portfolio assembly has a lot less to do with quality (for most published images of mine have reached at least a decent standard of that) than originality, personality — not simply my ability to capture moments, but to know which ones are worth capturing.

My theatre photography in particular functioned more as a disjointed cinematography, the capturing of as many moments as possible. The 2500 images of Carnival remain unsorted and largely unpublished, but I have no doubt that, if properly arranged, I could literally recreate the entire musical in silent flip-book form. I say that not with awe but with shame — though it served my purposes (to ensure that anyone involved would have at least some pictures which showcased them specifically), I feel like in that one moment of runaway enthusiasm I undermined the very essence of what being a photographer is.

A recent (in)famous commencement speech notes that if everyone is special, then no one is — and when you’ve captured every moment of a show, you’ve equalized it. No wonder I struggled so much to pick shots out for publication; I missed the point. A tough lesson, but one I’m glad I’ve come to recognize for what it is, a cautionary tale against ever doing that again.

Nevertheless, I’ve finished: I’ve fought my way through the barrows of my past, confronted some ghosts, and come out the other side with (I hope) enough gems to satisfy the needs of future photographic endeavors. More importantly, I’ve come out with a fresher appreciation for the friends who aren’t ghosts — whose images don’t haunt me because they’re still part of my life — and for the power of the dramas past and present that constitute our lives.

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