I recently read a touching blog post by photographer Joe McNally. The headline caught my eye—Take a picture of a feeling—and I’m happy I followed that link. McNally describes having the feeling while visiting his aging mother over the holidays that it might be the last time he would see her. Although melancholy, he followed through on this feeling and captured her in photos. His mother passed shortly after that visit.
His article coaches, “Every once in a while, you might get a feeling you need to shoot a picture. I would follow through on those, no matter how awkward, or sad, or inconvenient it might be. Over the years, I’ve made pictures of some feelings. Missed lots of times. Some, though, I still have a picture of, and I’m glad I do. Those pictures, of those feelings, have become my memory.”
Do you take pictures of feelings? I fear the majority of our photos document the facts, like who was at an event and what was served for dinner. And these are obviously important photos to take. But when was the last time you looked through your photos of a family event and were able to really relive the moment because of the emotion you captured? The photos we take because we follow the feeling that the moment is important to capture—as McNally says, in awkward, sad or inconvenient times—are the ones that really capture us. They are the ones that we can stare at. Get lost in. Those are really moments to remember.
To McNally’s urging I add the scrapbooking corollary: Do a layout of a feeling. This may make some layouts more challenging to do because focusing on the feelings that motivated you to take the photos will bring them back—the painful as well as the joyful. But I believe these will be layouts worth the effort.
Emotion can have a powerful impact on memory formation. Following is a layout I did a few years ago about a painful time. Whenever I look at it I find myself taking a deep breath and really remembering, which is important to me because I don’t ever want to forget that feeling and the moment it marked.