Faded photographs tell stories too

I can’t recall when this picture was taken, obviously. From the looks of it, I must have been two or younger. It’s one of my favourite photographs and with good reason.

Faded photographs, Memories, Mom and meMy mom has this Mona Lisa smile on her face and it’s so very uncanny because a recent photograph of mine had an identical smile. Talk about genetics! She still smiles that way, every now and then, although I love it best when she breaks into her infectious laughter.

It’s crumpled and creased, if you notice (the picture), but it still retains that element of untouched innocence. There’s a smile that tugs at the corner of my lips as my gaze falls on the tiny ponytail that stands up on the top of my head, curled away from the centre almost in artful play.

The white patches which come from years of being folded away in the pages of a forgotten diary only accentuate the strong jawline of my mom and the jet black sheen of her hair.

It’s greying now, the hair.

The one thing though that strikes me when I see this particular picture is the comfortable way she holds me in the crook of her arm. It seems to symbolise the way she cradles every trouble I face with a calm smile and knows the right words to say, even today.

My mom was 19 years old when I was born and the way people describe her slipping comfortablyΒ into marital life and motherhood continues to amaze me. I was married at 23 and had my daughter at 28. There are moments of absolute, unparalleled joy in motherhood that I wouldn’t exchange for anything in the world.

That instant when I first held my daughter close, watched her look back at me with those beautiful pupils in wide-eyed wonder, is something to cherish. That second of joy when she let go of all support, stood on her own and chortled in glee, is one for the picture albums. That precious, infinitesimal time every morning when she would wake up, crawl off the bed and come sleepy-eyed in search of me is a routine I miss dreadfully.

But the truth? Most of these memories, okay all of them, are captured in digital, high-resolution images now. I don’t have a single printed photograph of my daughter and myself, striking a pose which captures our downrightΒ crazy, mostly loving bond.

These vintage albums had a charm that digital photos don’t quite come close to achieving. You can run your finger over the creases, hoping to iron them out. Your mind can gently travel over the seconds that brought you joy while your eye gazes at the sepia-toned characters smiling back at you from the photograph. You can hold the picture up to your face and deeply inhale the fragrance of musty nostalgia, in the hope that you can be transported to a time that was simpler, in every sense.

That’s when I realise that faded photographs tell storiesΒ too: the story of who we were and who we can be, all brought together in a black and white image, for eternity.

47 thoughts on “Faded photographs tell stories too

  1. Cho Chweet!! I love the way you described the memory…including your interpretations of how your mom’s holding you. Makes me want to dig into my album and have a dekkho at some of my memorable pics! and yeah, most of my kids pics are stored digitally too….and it no way compares to the comfort of holding a pic in your hand.

  2. So well said. I just don’t get the same thrill when I see digital photographs, no matter how well they come out πŸ™‚ Such a joy to flip through old albums.

  3. We still print photographs. Of course, not all of them – but at least the ones with special moments. And there is this feeling of nostalgia as you run your fingers on them – like you can feel every moment as if it was playing right in front of you. Something that digital photos have failed to replicate.

  4. This post has inspired me to get our digital photos printed. It is immensely joyous when I open the albums containing the photos from my childhood every time I visit my parents. Equal is the joy of showing the photos of ‘Little Me’ to son who cannot believe his mumma could have been a little girl too πŸ™‚

  5. Wonderful spending a little while discovering you.
    What I admire about the Web is that so many accidental encounters mirror our thoughts helping us to find ourselves again…

  6. We sat and did that a while ago, scanned all the pictures. Unfortunately the hard disk got damaged and we lost a lot of our photos πŸ™ Guess we just need to make new memories.

  7. Hugs Cat. I know what you mean. I stumbled across a printed photograph of my grandfather and gazed at it for the longest time. Strange that we can never see them again in that form, right?

  8. Very nice piece. Yeah, I have a diskful of digital photographs, a target-rich environment for electronic mayhem.

    I also have a bag of prints that I rescued from my mother’s ruthless purgings, a target-rich environment for the next fire or flood.

    I’m now the oldest surviving generation in my family, and the borne of oral tradition are losing focus in my unreliable memory, but the photos are fixed and immutable.

  9. When I was a kid we had a desk and in the largest (bottom) drawer were photographs in no order at all. We were a blended family, and in that drawer the photos blended as well. I spent hours going through that drawer.

  10. Oh I agree. There’s something about having those printed out, old photos, that is so special. And because of the nature of digital photography, we can take hundreds of photos per minute, making those vintage photos so rare and unique. I loved reading the way you talked about your mother and about motherhood.

  11. Hi Shailja ..wonderful post ! You do resemble her !
    You have struck a sensitive chord with it.Faded photographs like handwritten letters are a treasure not for the genext. I think it’s our generation which has received the best and the worst of the both !

  12. What a beautiful photograph!
    Yes, so true, nowadays we don’t have printed photographs. I love going through old albums, but it’s sad that that tradition will probably end with our generation.

  13. Black and white photographs are so rich with hues that color prints can never depict just as the by-gone days are imbued with emotions that modern life can never cherish. Just as cute a pic as cute the idea is!

  14. Such an endearing photograph this is! I dearly miss the good ol’ days when one would painstakingly click each photo to ensure none of the 24/36 in the film roll got wasted. Then waiting in bathed breath to view the developed prints in ‘postcard’ size…reviewing a million times more! Ahh…and the charm of the B/W ones….nothing to beat those. After reading your piece, I am tempted to revisit my own collection of the same! Lovely post πŸ™‚

  15. Absolutely agree. I have a batch of old b&w photos that I store carefully and love going back to from time to time :). Thanks for sharing your lovely memory with us, Shailaja.

  16. What a lovely photo Shailaja! At first I thought it was you and Gy…such resemblance πŸ™‚ I love print photos…left all my albums back home and really miss them. Time to convert few digital into print now πŸ™‚

  17. Such a lovely photograph of you and your mom. πŸ™‚ And you are right, the digital photographs are no match for these. I keep procrastinating taking prints; this post is a much needed nudge.

  18. When I looked at the photograph, the first thought that occurred was, “That’s Shailaja with her daughter.” Then the black and white picture and the crack sank in. Those black and white pictures are pieces of art. Loved the post too.

  19. There is something really precious about photographs that you can hold and feel. My parents have preserved every memory of mine from 0 to today. I take a look at then when I visit and I’m flooded with emotion every single time.

    It is really sad that our children will never know what that means. I shall try my best to take hard copies and preserve them if I have any kids. That’s assuming they still make those kind of cameras then.

  20. This is sweet, Shailaja. Old photos are truly a treasure to cherish. This time when I was in india, I picked up the albums and scanned all the old photos. I wasn’t sure how much longer they will survive in their current attire without the digital support. But the joy of holding a photo is incomparable.

  21. It’s amazing how these old faded photos would bring so many memories and stories … my mom will tell me the same story again and again and yet I will never get tired of hearing it. You have an uncanny resemblance to you mother and the smile too!!!

  22. What a lovely post about photographs! This is a lovely one of you and your mother. They are so special and we cherish them more and more as time goes on. I just love old photos that bring it all back as this photo did for you. My photo books and photographs are that much more poignant and special to me now that my mother is gone.

  23. You are so right. The nostalgic touch of printed photographs is something our generation is missing and we dont even realize it. The trend is ‘Hold your mobile in front and pout’.

  24. That is such a sweet memory. For a moment I thought it was you and Gy. I make it a point to have at least a few prints of the kids’ pictures. They make for very happy viewing. I have been intending to put them together in a scrapbook.

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