Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Family pictures and the art of the sideways glance

And now for the latest installment in my adventures while sorting through the family pictures spanning a 100 years. At least. You may be able to tell that I am very proud of this ongoing project but for the life of me, I'm not sure what gives me away every single time!

This week, I noticed a curious trend from pictures belonging to my grandparents on both sides. Of course they're looking young, dashing, handsome and beautiful in all of them, but inevitably, they're also looking sideways. To the left. To the right. At an angle. The pictures definitely benefit from the air of grace alternating with graveness that their beautiful profiles lend to them but I don't think it's all about showing off their best side. They made me pause and think.

My grandparents grew up at a time when photographs were still an occasion. Cameras were not a given in every household. And the opportunity still demanded an effort at dignity. Which is probably why I always think of my grandparents with awe. I didn't really get the chance to know my father's parents very well because they died when I was very young... and whatever memories I've fabricated of them while looking at their pictures are tinged with the respectability of their somber faces looking somewhere into the future (which is inevitably on the side of frame!). They weren't completely devoid of humor, I assure you... I have a few real memories tucked away of happy times spent swinging on their legs or finagling candy out of their unsuspecting kind hearts... but the pictures leave them looking forever all-knowing. Wise. With quiet dignity and romance.

And old habits die hard. This past summer, when my husband and I were visiting my family in India, we took a few pictures with my maternal grandmother - the only branch on the grandparent tree left for me. And it's with a faint smile that I now realize that my grandmother is looking off to the side even in this one, dated June 28th, 2011... in the age of digital cameras and instant gratification. My husband and I are looking directly into the camera - eyes wide open, smiling like monkeys - and there's my grandmother, seated between us... looking thoughtfully into the (sideways) distance.

Just another sign of the good ol' days. And what a pity it is to bid them farewell.


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