Judith Weiser calls snapshots “footprints of the mind,” where the present holds the past and carries the story behind the words. Photos capture a moment that holds the feelings, thoughts, and emotions forever in time. Nonverbally encoded within each image is the way their creator perceives, makes sense of, and evaluates the world around them.
I’ve been taking pictures since I got a camera for my 10th birthday. My relationship to the image has changed over time. One area in particular is how I view mistakes. These are the images where the person’s head is lopped off, or the subject is out of focus or just otherwise not what you intended to capture. When I was young, I threw these types of images away by the handful. Now I treasure them. Because I know that when we try to get it just right, we sometimes miss the deeper meaning the image holds for us.
For example, I have a picture of my mom that she promised me to never show, but that I will forever cherish for its hidden content. On a whim, my sister and I took her to get a pedicure. My mom had rather sensitive feet, so she was genuinely nervous about this new venture. I took many photos of us being pampered that day, but my favorite is a “mistake.” It’s a profile of my mom with a look of unexpected delight. What makes the image a mistake is that the strap of her purse appears to be shooting out of her mouth. It makes me laugh in a way that captures the playful, spontaneous joy of this rare and special day.
I’ve taken hundreds of photos in my life. Had I seen the strap I’d never have taken it. But that’s just it. The unconscious knew what it was doing. My mind thought it was capturing the moment of a 70 year-old, tender-toed woman getting her first pedicure. It was my soul who mischievously captured the magical fun of the moment because words could never do it. This is one of the many gifts of photography. They “speak” for us in ways our voices cannot.