The Power of a Photograph
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of a photograph to evoke emotions, memories, and heal old wounds. It makes sense since I just finished writing the rough draft of my third novel, The Christmas Photograph. It’s a Christmas novella (approx. 160 pages) about how an old photograph taken fifty-eight years ago on Christmas morning has the potential to bring a father and son together this Christmas.
The hook is, how can your best and worst Christmas be the same day? In this story, Marcus Cain faced this dilemma when he was ten years old. Christmas morning, he received the best gift of his young life, a Schwinn Red Tornado bike. By bedtime, it would be the worst day of his life.
I used the illustration above from Reminisce magazine as inspiration to write the story. I taped it to the vertical shaft of the desk lamp in my office where I could see it every day I was writing—and I let the story come to me.
Now that the rough draft is complete, I’m still thinking about the power of a photograph—to evoke emotion and unlock memories. It got me thinking about one of my favorite childhood photographs—one that still speaks to me of a different time and place.
I believe my uncle took the photograph in approximately 1960. I was seven. My older brother, Chris, was eight-and-a-half. We were standing on our front lawn facing the sidewalk and the camera where our uncle snapped the photo. (Ever notice how every uncle seems to be the unofficial family photographer?)
We were proudly standing alongside our homemade scooters. The base was a two by four, the front fork was a wooden orange crate, the handlebars were wooden dowels, and the wheels were (you guessed it) roller skates. Essentially, it was the equivalent of an orange crate with handlebars mounted to a skateboard.
Chris and I were smiling. Why not? We had our own set of wheels. I don't remember if we could even steer the contraption, but it didn’t matter. It looked cool, and it sure was fun.
“A photograph is a return ticket
to a moment otherwise gone.”
This photograph jarred loose other memories. I believe while we were standing there; the milkman stopped by to deliver our milk—in glass bottles. After he placed them in our milk chute on the side of the house, he invited us to hop up in his bright yellow truck and help ourselves to ice cubes used to keep the milk cold. We shoved the ice in our mouths on this warm August afternoon. This was a summer routine. His name was “Gus.” He wore striped bib overalls and a baseball cap with the company logo; Progressive Dairy. He was an older gentleman—whatever age that is to a seven-year-old.
I’m not sure where this photograph is at the moment, probably in one of our scrapbooks, but it doesn’t matter because I have it sealed in my mind’s eye. It still sparks emotions I had then—my admiration for my older brother (which hasn’t faded since), the sensation of a simpler time, the scent of summer, the love of my uncle, the carefree nature of childhood, the joy that all known loved ones were still alive, and the naïve notion that all was right with the world.
Photographs are powerful generators of emotion. They do more than simply capture the scene. They also call to mind the sentiments of the past, helping us to experience it, interpret it, and keep it alive in the present.
It’s been said that “Photography is the art of frozen time… the ability to store emotion and feelings within a frame.”
SOMETHING TO CHEW ON:
What is your favorite family photograph? Why? What emotions does it evoke? Consider sharing it with a family member. The emotions or memories it evokes in them might surprise you. Whenever I talk to my siblings about a family photo, they share a memory I have long forgotten and would never have recaptured without their prompt.
The Desert Between Us — Currently, I am editing this novel according to the developmental editor’s requests. The publisher will then review it and it will move on to the copy line editor before proofreading, cover design, and marketing plan development for the release date next April. It's a long process.
The Christmas Photograph — Soon I will start self-editing the completed rough draft and preparing a book proposal for my agent. Once approved, he will present the manuscript and the proposal to my current publisher for consideration.
The Glimpse —This is my first novel, and it has been available since 2019 on Amazon.com, BN.com, Goodreads.com, ChristianBooks.com and websites all over the world. It has a 4.8-star review rating out of 5.0 stars. Currently, I am considering redesigning the cover to emphasize the restoration of the father/son relationship depicted in the novel. If you have read it and would like to leave an Amazon review, I would sincerely appreciate it.