I have never been the type of person to have pictures of my family hanging on my wall. For a very long time, I would find it kind of tacky and just a little bit kitsch. Then I moved to the US.
Two of my most prized possessions that I brought with me from Denmark, is two framed images. They are not very big but they are both fairly old. Both are framed in a simple black frame. Nothing fancy. One is of my mother. It was taken back when she was a young woman. Before she married my dad, and way before my sister and I were even thought of. I love that picture of her. It reminds me of the woman behind my mother. It reminds me of her intelligence and her beauty. It looks so much like the woman I see, when I talk with her. The slight smile that tells of her knowing something the viewer doesn’t.
The other image is of her father, my granddad.
He died when I was 6, but I remember him so vividly. Working in his barn workshop where he was a farm blacksmith, while my grandmother was tending to the garden outside the barn. He would make me a bow and arrow out of bamboo and string.
I also remember his funeral and my wonder at why people were laughing so much. Only later did I understand, that they were celebrating his life.
Now he is hanging there on my wall with his one hand in his pocket and the other one holding his favorite beer, a porter. He would always drink those. You know, I don’t think I ever saw him with any other kind of beer. He is in his workshop, and I can almost smell the motor oil and the sweet scent of metal that always lingered on him.
He has a slight smile on his face. That smile that tells of him knowing something the viewer doesn’t. He would always smile like that. Kind of crooked, but with a huge sparkle in his eyes. His daughter is smiling the same way on her portrait. Both are now in my living room, proudly displayed.
They match perfectly even though they were taken many years apart. Both are black and white. Both have that smile that reveals their relation to the eye of the beholder. One is alive. One isn’t.
Now I am sad, that I don’t have the same type of image of my grandmother. Of my dad, from when he was young.
So, why are portraits so valuable to us?
They are memories. Not only the images from a special day. Or the ones taken by the school photographer many years ago. Having a special portrait of someone we love is the most priceless possession.
Both images were passed down to me from my grandmother when she died. Both of them are invaluable heirlooms.
Being a photographer has put me in an incredibly privileged position because I can actually make those invaluable heirlooms myself, so I can pass on my family history to my children.
I look at that wall where my grandfather and my mother are posing knowingly, with their slight smiles. I want to fill up that wall with people that I love.
All of them are so far away, either because time has taken them, or because they are in my home country of Denmark, thousands of miles away from my home in Connecticut. But having them there on the wall helps me remember them, either as the person they were once upon a time when they were young, or as they were the last time I saw them.
I snapped a picture of my grandmother before she passed. She is going up there on the wall.
What do you do with the pictures of your loved ones?