Does Your Photo Matter If There’s No One Left to Remember You

I posted this quote yesterday on my Facebook page. I’ve posted it before and I’m sure I will post it again. 


And after posting it, I was asked a question by my Facebook friend, Tim. Tim asked, “If there is nobody “downline” from you (ie. no kids) does it even matter?” 

I realize the question was rhetorical, but still, it’s a good question. Nay, a GREAT question. And although I answered Tim on my page with a brief response, I couldn’t stop thinking about the question. It followed me throughout the morning, knocking at my brain. It interrupted other thoughts. It refused to shut up. So, to stop the thoughts pinging around my brain, I sat down and opened the door to the question. When I did, the thoughts came flooding in. It was like a tsunami, except no one was hurt, everything stayed dry, and there were no celebrity/politician photo-ops. 

So grab a sandwich, kids. This is a long one.
Unless in your lifetime you do something spectacular: invent the light bulb, cure cancer, discover penicillin, make a zero-calorie doughnut, find a way to make low-fat ice cream taste good, history will forget your name. Yes, even those popular social media influencers and anyone with the last name of Kardashian will all eventually be forgotten. And it’s a shame really, because going to work, raising a family, and trying to be a good person is the wonderful ordinary every day stuff most of us do. It’s the stuff that makes the world work. But whether or not you have children, there will reach a time in every wonderfully ordinary life where nobody will care that you had lived. I realize that sounds a bit harsh, but it’s true. 

I am certain there will come a time in my family where some great great great great great grandchild will pick up the photo of me sitting on a NYC curb, wearing a tutu and holding a bottle of wine and say, “Who the heck was she? What was wrong with her? And whatever it was, I hope it doesn’t run in our family.”

I know this will happen, because this is the way life works. Get enough time between you and future generations and you run the risk of coming into contact with someone who sees your photograph mixed in with a box of old photos in great great grandma’s attic and doesn’t care. They are simply old photos, sold for a quarter at a garage sale. If you’re lucky, you might make it onto the wall of a Cracker Barrel, but that’s kind of “the big time” for old photos. The Show. Only a handful are chosen. Don’t get your hopes up. 

And I think about this when I see old photos. The people in the images are strangers to me. I know not their names nor their occupation nor their history. Their bodies are now dust. And yet, here I am, in 2019, looking at them. They died years and years ago, and yet they are still alive and well and living in the photograph. They speak from the surface of the paper, saying, 
“I existed. 
I had a story. 
I was here.”

So, as Tim asked, in the end, does it matter? I guess it depends on how you view life. I happen to think that a Life lived, any life, matters. Rich, poor, happy, sad—it all matters. And the preserving of that life, if even only on paper, is important to society as a whole, especially today’s society, where everything is temporary and forgotten quickly. (Side note: this is the reason I refuse to use Snapchat or Facebook/Instagram stories. I’m not interested in creating something that will disappear in a matter of hours. Unless it’s pie. I’m good with pie.)

Who we were, what we did, how we dressed, where we went, what was important to us…those are the things that live on in a photograph.
You may come from a family that cherishes family history. The importance of the people and the stories and the faces might be passed on for many many generations. Tales of your weirdness may live on for hundreds of years. 

But, if that’s not the case, remember, friends- even though no one may be left who knows your name and no one may be left who cares about your memory, your life lives on in a photograph. One day, someone will see your photograph. They will hold it and marvel at your clothing or laugh at your silliness. They will connect with a time long ago. And your face will stare back from the past and say simply, “I WAS HERE.” 

I think that is a freaking powerful thing. 

Does your photo matter if there’s no one left to remember you?
My friends, I would argue it matters even more.


1 Comment on Does Your Photo Matter If There’s No One Left to Remember You

  1. The question is how do the photos survive? From my father, a serious hobbyist photographer, I have photos of me from hours of birth to 60 years later. Sepia photos from turn of the century, offered $5 for the lot of them by a dealer. I am a photographer with my personal images from teenager to now a very seniorager. And cartons of slides, contact sheets, prints for years of assignments. Because I am the only one left in the world, all will end up in the landfill when I die. Maybe should just just get my $5 for everything, living in thrift shops forever.

    Might you have any thoughts??

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