What do you do with your photos when you can’t look at them anymore? How photography and prints can help photographers through heartbreak, not just remind them of it.
“…and everywhere I tried to love you
is yours again and only yours.”
- Joanna Newsom
There are difficulties to being a photographer, and even more to being a photographer still shooting film. Darkrooms are dying out and turnaround takes thousands of seconds, minutes, maybe hours longer than a digital upload. But the hardest-hitting liability of film is also one of the most rewarding and beautiful aspects; memories you can hold in your hands, surround yourself with, see hanging on a wall before you close your eyes at night. But what happens when those memories turn harsh, sour, abrasive? The cross-processed smiles beside your bed you smiled back at might now only remind you of pain, maybe that someone or somewhere or something you held close is gone. The most intimate things we possess are our memories and I do believe photographers value these perhaps not more so, but at least wish to immortalize them more than someone without a device designed to stop the time around them.
Photographers understand the importance of reminders of a time, or a place, a feeling or a mood. We seek to capture something fleeting, something loving or alive that may wind up hurting us to have known it at all, yet we are left with the snapshots of where we have been or whom we have known and the things we have seen and experienced. The trees you stared up at from a hammock on a sunny day with someone now gone; clowning around in a costume shop when things were still new; pictures from the state fair—the last time things were good—still undeveloped on a roll you don’t want to think about ever seeing the light of day. Unfortunately for us, these reminders stare back almost too personally. They laugh and kiss you when it may be the most hurtful thing you can open your eyes and see.
But I am here to say that you can develop them.
Endings are never easy and everyone deals with them differently. So as photographers, what do we do when these photos stare back at us, reminding us of memories we can’t stand to lose but can’t be faced with? Do we burn them? Do we hide them in a box in the closet? Do we leave them on a roadside somewhere? It’s up to us as individuals. But these memories are yours, and the way you saw them and felt them when you first clicked that shutter, are yours alone. And sometimes being surrounded by these prints can be reassuring in a way that nothing else can. You have been here, you have felt this way. The light on their face in a shot is just the way you remembered it on the day you took their picture. You remember the leaves crunching under your feet when you walked down the street with them and the way the air smelled in autumn.
Even if these moments are gone—and all moments will go—you can still love them and in time appreciate them even more. In this way, being a photographer is a double-edged sword. A photo can break your heart but it can also heal it. Don’t ever forget that.