In Brief—This extension of last week’s The Mirror Doesn’t Lie is a reflection on the past and how we preserve the images in memory and on film.
Brain and Camera as Time Machine—
The old man shuffles through the pottery studio, pausing now and then to look around, at a wheel, a glazing bucket. Everybody notices the figure, particularly the long-haired young guy clad only in a pair of patched jeans and leather sandals. As suddenly as the old man appeared, he disappears as if by magic. Was he an illusion?
An old friend who was once a young woman at the glazing table, who taught young children for many years and is still throwing pots in her mountain retreat, told me the story of an old flame who showed up on her doorstep years later. He had changed. He was not the same young man who had set her heart aflutter all those years ago. So came the inspiration for this piece.
I had a dream recently. In it there was a young woman who had touched my life and taught me about myself before realizing that I was not the guy for her. She was just as she had been, not as the passage of time would have given her the wrinkles and sags that come to us all. In the same dream, my father was just as he was when I last saw him, not as he must have been at the time of his death.
Then there’s the husband of the potter in the mountains. Though retired now and still active, he is an extremely talented photographer who spent years in television filming some of the shows that you watched and loved. Because he is so skilled with a camera (not to mention almost everything he touches), several lovely young ladies asked him to do nude portraits of them. Not pornography, I hasten to say, but art photography showing young women with lovely bodies at the most appealing time in their lives. One of the young women told him that she wanted to be able to remember in the future what she was like when she was young and vibrant. A moment frozen in time that captured an image of youth in all its freshness.
The other day, I roamed the Internet for film performers to see how they had changed in the years since their image flickered on the screen of a film I had seen in years past. As with those messages sent to you by a friend showing show business celebrities then and now, some quite shocking, I was fascinated at the changes between a child actor then and how he appears today or what the passage of time has done to that actress who once lit my fantasies. They were images frozen in my memory.
On another occasion, this old guy now looking back on a life of highs and lows began searching the Internet for information about old friends and past loves. Most searches ended in failure, but suddenly there was a familiar forty-year-old image of a former girlfriend that had been posted by her daughter who wanted to memorialize her mother who had died too young. I was both saddened and astonished at seeing a photograph I had long since forgotten. I experienced a glimpse of the past and a wave of nostalgia that reminded me of my youth.
These days, I reflect on how time’s movement alters the appearance of not just the people we have known, but of Earth itself. People smarter than I have written about the phenomenon of memory. We have the ability through memory or photography to preserve a moment in time regardless of its passage.
Whether it’s a classic shot of Marilyn Monroe, a Spanish soldier falling on the field of battle, an American flag being raised on Iwo Jima or your family album, like an insect captured in amber, that dream or that photograph is a time machine that has captured a split-second of the past.
If somebody had told that young man in the pottery studio that the old man he saw was himself fifty years hence, he would have laughed. But from the perspective of today, we can look back and see our parents or friends as they were when we last saw them. As for ourselves, we can select a moment showing us as we were then. No camera is necessary, but be warned, there may be a little distortion depending on our memories.
Tell me about the memories of long-lost friends and relatives that still exist in your head or in the album and how those images differ from today’s reality. Has the latest class reunion reminded you that all of us are changing? Does that old love on your doorstep tell you anything about yourself as well as about him? The images on film or in our heads have captured moments in time. And time moves ever onward.