We live in the digital age that makes it easier than ever to capture and share images. Recently some friends began converting slide photos taken during our college years into digital images. We didn’t take or share that many photos back then. It was too much hassle taking film, slides or photos to be processed.
The advent of One Hour Photo booths improved the process somewhat. Getting your photos back in an hour made it less painful and took less patience than dropping film off and coming back five days to a week later. That seems hard to imagine these days.
Those changes make the image at left all the more interesting for me to consider. This is an excerpt from a photo taken in 1976 on a class nature trip. I was standing under the watery shelf of a high bluff above the Mississippi River at a park called Pike’s Peak.
That white belt came with me to Luther College in the fall of 1975. I don’t recall that blue plaid shirt, but I wore a ton of those over the years. Those jeans look like a hundred pairs I’ve worn. Those adidas shoes? They were SL 76s, green with yellow stripes. That tells me this photo was taken during sophomore year in college.
I wore that white turtleneck to race cross country on cold days. I also wore that thick head of hair all the time. Those wire-rimmed glasses were not my friend in many ways. They were certainly no girl magnet. My lenses were thick. I surely could have used a pair of contact lenses to avoid having to push those glasses up on my nose during training and races.
We made do in times less sophisticated than today. I see the tip of my pelvis in this photo and that tip of my head lost in thought and gone to other places than I was at that moment in time. Dreamer. You know you are a dreamer. Can you put your hand in your head, Oh NO! That deep absorption is both the blessing and the curse of my life’s existence.
I wasn’t alone in that journey through geekhood, of course. We runners had our share of cool in terms of pushing ourselves to performances, yet we also wrestled with self-image, confidence and self-esteem on other fronts. We were racing against the forces of life itself across a spectrum of purposes. The lessons learned along the way are what we count upon today, in so many ways.
So much of life is granular. The great artist Paul Klee anticipated all this granularity. His paintings seem to be composed of tiny cells of light that make up our perception.
This re-formative process takes place each time images from our past are called into the present. They come to us through light and space. Our sudden recollection and recognition of a moment in time can be shocking. What was I thinking? Who was I then? Am I different now?
Our bodies change as life rolls on. So do our minds. All these experiences shimmer in and out of minds while some fade entirely. A memory shared by a friend, visual or otherwise, can jar them back into cognizance. This happens at every age. A thirty-year- old hearing a story about an elementary school antic has the same force as a seventy-year-old recalling events from their fortieth birthday. We’re all stuck in time in some way, you see. Then it spits us back out the other side. That is mortality. It is a picture inside a picture. A layer over a layer. A billion pixels of existence that fall in and out of focus.
As an endurance athlete I’ll often be rolling along on a highway side on my bicycle, running along a country road in the sun or plying my way through the pool when reality locks into place and I realize where I am at that instant. My brain takes a snapshot that stores the look and feel of that moment in my memory. This happens more often than I care to admit. I wonder why.
If there is an afterlife, will we also have this giant catalogue of moments to shuffle through? The Snapfish Book of Life? Is that what awaits us in eternity? Through the flow of time? Is that what we’ve waited for? It’s like the film store at the local pharmacy. We’ll just have to wait and see what develops. Picture this. A life in pixels.