Not too long ago I lost much of my family...photographically at least.
This unusual incident began about four months earlier when one of my cousins asked if she could borrow one of my photo albums that contained images of her mother while young.
It turned out to be a blunder on my part to lend it to her.
When she returned it recently the once-pristine book was unrecognizable. It was crumbling in my hands. As she mumbled apologies while looking down at the floor, she then explained that after showing it to her children she had put it in a damp, seldom-used closet and forgotten about it. She reluctantly confessed that around that time she had dealt with a serious termite problem in that part of her home.
I was heartbroken when I realized that those insects had feasted on the images of my loved ones, most of whom were now deceased.
After issuing an endless chorus of Im sorry, she finally left while I held the disintegrating remnants of a pictorial album depicting people who had lived, loved, laughed, wept and eventually withered away. Even though some of these individuals were still alive today, I felt that my cousins carelessness had, in a way, deprived those that had passed from their own small slice of immortality that any photograph bestows on its subject.
I walked over to a table, spread some newspapers and laid the corpse of the album. It was in bad shape. While I carefully opened up the pages to see what might be salvageable, I recalled what Karl Lagerfeld, the fashion designer, had once said: What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment...impossible to reproduce.
He was right. Now, due to a family members negligence, those captured moments were likely gone forever.
Unfortunately, the insects were masters of destruction. They bored several entrances into the book and devoured as much as possible. Oddly, just a handful of pictures on the outer edges were left untouched while the majority were eaten away.
Holes, gashes, and emptiness now remained where there had once been beautiful portraits and embracing couples. It was eerie to see diverse fragments of relatives as the sole survivors of lives that had been so meaningful.This was particularly painful to me because I remembered the original photographs.
I decided to cut out and save whatever I could. And in spite of the damage to them I would keep some of the better portraits. But there was a greater challenge ahead: restoring my relationship with my cousin.
After calling her, she apologized again and we talked for a good while. That week we had supper and then together we looked at albums. Cordiality returned.
Later that same night I remembered part of a quotation about loss. To verify it I searched through a notebook and found the words I was seeking. Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, wrote: Mostly it is loss which teaches us about the worth of things.
O.J. GONZALEZ is a native and resident of Jeanerette. He graduated from USL in printmaking and photography and his photographs have appeared in publications in Louisiana, Alaska, Canada, New Zealand and England.
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