Family Album

Boy in Statue of Liberty costume

Two girls, pre–teens, stand and salute on either side of a younger boy, dressed as the Statue of Liberty and holding his torch high. Both girls have long, uncombed hair and oversized glasses. Each girl's monocolored shirt is tucked neatly into her jeans. The girl on the left, the shorter one with the bigger smile is me. My sister's not smiling, but she seems to just be doing a better job holding the straight face that goes with a salute. My cousin's cutting his eyes to the left, as though searching (or pleading) for a way out. This picture was taken, probably by an aunt, in California, where my immediately family visited extended family while I was growing up.

Man at St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall

Several years later, perhaps (the timeline is a bit fuzzy), my mother takes another photo of me and my sister. In it, we run from the tide cutting off St. Michael's Mount from the coast of Cornwall. This time, rather than a cousin, we're joined by my father. He stands in the foreground, smiling quietly and pleasantly. The smile's out of place in a photo where the wind blows his hair back off his forehead, and we run helter–skelter up the path from the water. Our parents took us many places, never anywhere truly dangerous, always places where a quiet smile could at least still be cracked. Like the California picture, without context, this photograph raises unanswerable questions: Why is the boy wearing a Statue of Liberty costume? Why are they running? Why is the man smiling so sanguinely as figures race, heads turned perhaps in fear, in the background? Even with context, these questions' answers are distorted by my terrible memory. We were running because the tide was coming in, but had we already been to the Mount? Was the tide really that fast? Was the picture as staged as my cousin's Statue of Liberty pose?

Woman and SmartCar

The series of photographs shows my family's tendency towards minor ridiculousness. We adhere to social conventions, but save pictures of ourselves in strange situations. Here, I pose with a SmartCar in Paris. It was the first SmartCar I had ever seen, and I liked it so much I wanted a photo. My mother indulged me; yet again, it is her behind the camera. As with the photo of my father and the tide, the central figure stands to the right of the frame, and the eye travels from there down and to the left. I don't remember now what camera my mother used to take these pictures, but it was most likely her bulky, high–tech, professional–looking one. That camera's the fifth wheel in all my memories of traveling as a child and teen. My mother attributes her skill with it to growing up with my grandfather, a professional photographer.

Kids on swingset

My mother captures all these small moments of strangeness: two girls running from a tide, a young teen posing with an unsexy car, two college–age women swinging on playground swings (one of the last times my sister and I could be mistaken for each other). The Statue of Liberty doesn't quite fit--my mother didn't take the picture. Perhaps that says more about me, then. It's not the pictures my mother took that I've collected here, but rather the pictures I've chosen to keep. The ones I return to, remember, pull out of albums to share with the whole world wide web, are the ones that make my life look interesting and full of questions. I have been to Paris for countless weekend trips, and have no pictures of myself in front of the Eiffel Tower. Pictures like that have built–in meanings about tourism and voyeurism and experience as simulacrum. What I want, and what I want my pictures to say about me, is that I have authentic experiences. My experiences are deep and real enough to raise questions for the viewers of their photographic documentation. I am an individual, and if I choose to pose, I will pose with someone in costume and salute at the camera to let you know that I know what a contrived situation this is.

Mother and daughter at ski lodge

This photograph seems to belie everything I just said. In it, I grin like an idiot, and nothing seems worth questioning; it's just a mother and daughter, dressed up for a snowy weekend. I love it as much as any other, though. It's one of the few where my mother appears in front of the camera.