A recent picture of my daughter, walking down a boardwalk.
Except that as I was scanning through my digital files, I happened to come across this picture, of my daughter walking down a boardwalk, three-and-a-half years earlier.
Same perspective, same framing, even the boardwalks turn left at the end. But different places, different seasons, and pictures taken 42 months apart. How did I manage to recreate this image twice, with such a complete unawareness of the earlier image? Is this a kind of camera “tunnel vision” that kicks in, whereby my eye is looking for that sense of “depth” which the lines of the boardwalk provide? Or is it something else? As far as I can tell, I don’t think there’s a single image of my son walking away down a boardwalk, so why does it always seem to be my daughter that I’m catching in this particular moment?
There’s undoubtedly an unconscious internalization of compositional aesthetics that helps to explain why the framing is similar. Indeed, photographs of children on boardwalks are a common motif (and I don’t claim any great originality in these images). But I think that there’s also something about the aesthetics of nostalgia itself that run deep in these two photographs. Representing my youngest child, my daughter, as an independent being (and a determined walker!), moving forward on a path (but still safely inside the railings?), offers links to other kinds of narratives at play. If nostalgia was not present in the making of the image, it is certainly there in the archiving, re-viewing, and remembering them over time, where the temporal dimensions are marked by less by the changing seasons and more by the changing, growing body in the middle of the frame. It’s not easy to separate the father from the photographer in these pictures.
The running joke growing up in my family of photographers is that if people were in the picture, then it must have been taken by Mom. Dad’s photographs at this time in his career focused largely (although not exclusively) on scenic works. Perhaps I am guilty here of over-aestheticising a family moment, taking a memento of a trip and trying to turn it into something bigger. Or maybe it’s a reflection of deeper, subconscious anxieties about what “walking away” symbolizes, that mixture of excitement and trepidation that always hangs in the balance.
Or maybe my daughter just likes walking away from me, and being out on her own. Perhaps not surprisingly, the image below shows her around the age of 1. It was one of the first photographs that I printed and framed for her room. Ever the determined walker.
Yes, I do also take pictures of my kids with faces showing, in case anyone’s wondering.