A black and white photograph caught my eye. I could see myself in my mother, her confident – almost arrogant – expression, large white petals of flowers crowned over her head and the long veil dropping over the side of her wedding dress. “I want to see you in the same veil when you get married,” my mother smiled.
I have spent the last year trying to get to know my parents. For most of my adult life, my relationship with them has been tumultuous at best, frustration and anger often hovered like a dark cloud over us and all due to one significant barrier; our inability to communicate. It was not only language – since they do not speak English – but their identification to a paternalistic culture that I could never relate to. Memories of the way my father mistreated my mother were stored in my mind and there it remained as it prevented me from finding forgiveness and moving on.
Photographs are now an integral part of our lives that capture moments of significant value and enables us to reflectively explore and interpret experiences that would otherwise be unreliably lodged in our own subjective memories. Memories are not static, but constantly evolving and fluid. We are a part of an arrow of time and this narrowly dictates that we continuously experience and learn and as a consequence our understanding of these memories can change. How we may interpret an experience as a fifteen year old is very different to how we would interpret that same experience at fifty, thus memories are unreliable because how we interpret them continuously evolves.
I kneeled on the floor, the collection of family photos piled on the coffee table as both my parents sat watching me navigate through them. I would lift up a photo and they would explain the story behind it, sometimes they both interpreted and told the stories differently until they both came to a consensus.
Stories about the village they grew up, the challenges they faced in poverty, my dad in the Turkish army, hating needles and being bitten in the bum by a dog. My mum learning how to use a sewing machine, various traditional cooking techniques, the love she had for her mother. One story after another, the photographs helped me understand that they were just two people who struggled in life together and who had no clue what they were doing.
It does not mean that my parents have never done wrong, but rather it is about my understanding of who they are that explains the wrong, that explains the ignorance behind the wrong and the almost childlike innocence. This understanding helped me find forgiveness.
I was determined to start new, to build a new relationship with my parents and to do so objectively. I would often resort to emotions, but the more I remember that they are two human beings rather than two parents, I am no longer expecting from them, no longer telling them that they could have done better but rather their inadequacies are symbolic of their humanity.
Photos explain the past, that there is an arrow of time, that we have stories that are stored within us and that help define the people we ultimately become. I love cars and it was great that me and my dad start talking about finding the 1960’s Ford Falcon that he once had and fixing it together. I love cooking and me and my mum start talking about making short videos of her traditional recipes. To set aside the inadequacies and focus on the good, to build on that.
The experience of photos are enhanced when they are shared, as said by Jon Krakauer:
Happiness is only real when shared.
When I look at the picture above where I am standing in front of Cafe Florian in Venice, Italy, it seems I am happy, but it does not convey the deep sadness I was actually experiencing at the time. It was six months after I had a serious car accident preceding months of daily harassment at work and I had significant heart issues that it felt like I had a gaping emptiness in my chest. The trip itself, however, changed my life and Italy became the medicine that started the healing process toward this happiness that I now feel today. Photos are not just to look at, they are a tool to tell stories by those within them, initiators of memories that are captured at that moment.
Most of my relationships have failed because of misunderstandings that erupt from poor communication. Sometimes, like with my parents, it is because of significant cultural and linguistic barriers, other times it is because of different world views and perceptions. When I am intentionally undermined and my identity, my story disregarded because I fail to fit into an ideal aesthetic designed by society that expects certain characteristics and behaviours, it confirms that such people are refusing to learn about me but rather comparing me into a social ideal.
This is wrong and soon enough everyone is forgetting their own history and story as they try to become what others expect.
Our memories are always changing. My parents did okay, my childhood and upbringing certainly had its challenges but it is definitely not fraught with any horror. We had good times and we were protected. As I grow more intelligent, as I learn and experience new things, my understanding of my memories also grow and change. The more I learn to understand others, the more likely I move away from resorting to emotions.
Photos are the tool that helps us channel stories, stories that remind us that we are all human.
I’m the one in the bikini! With my sisters.
When I lost all my photos after my laptop went missing and Apple made a colossal error after it changed from iPhoto to Photo where my photos disappeared from cloud storage, I decided to store photos in Instagram despite the problem of technological changes. I want to be able to sit one day and channel stories and experiences through them with my loved ones.