One of the most common questions I get is “When did you start getting interested in photography?” And the short answer is I don’t really remember.
Tucked inside my baby book, there is an envelope of photos that says “Lauren’s first pictures on her own camera”. It’s dated 1988, so I was 4 or 5 years old. It’s full of pictures of my family in front of our house, everyone all kneeling down like I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to fit everyone in the frame of the picture. It even includes a selfie of myself.
I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t enjoy taking pictures. When I was 12, my grandmother took me on a trip to Egypt to visit the pyramids (yes, I was a very spoiled granddaughter – and my grandma was and still is like the coolest most generous person on the planet). I took SO. MANY. PHOTOS. I would try and get the picture juuuuuust right so it felt artsy.
By 16 I had discovered the magic of black and white film. And when my next door neighbor’s dog had dalmatian puppies my best friend and I took dozens and dozens of pictures of use with those dogs. By that point I had my first job at the local Wal-Mart which conveniently had a one hour photo lab, so quite often I would drop off a roll of film when I got to work and pick it up excited to see what developed by my lunch break.
In college I debated taking a photography course. I really wanted to, but it didn’t seem to fit into my course of study for an education degree so instead I just plastered photos on my dorm wall like wallpaper. And walked through the art gallery and envied everyone else’s photos.
And then came the development of digital cameras…… (yes, I’m that old, lol)
My first digital camera had a whopping 3.6 megapixels. I thought I was hot stuff. I took pictures of EVERYTHING. But my favorite thing to photograph were the babies and toddlers I taught at the daycare I worked at. I loved taking photos of their little snotty nosed smiles and their chubby fingers and printing them out on our company black and white printers to put into the kid’s weekly journals. Parents loved that too.
And when I had my own babies, I just kept on clicking. Those pictures are some of my most precious possessions. It was how I looked back on how tiny they were. Remembered their faces and their wrinkly foreheads and those special outfits.
It wasn’t until just recently that everything clicked into place as to WHY photos meant so much to me. After a silly Facebook post that had gone viral, I began to realize that maybe my brain worked a little differently than “normal”. When you close your eyes and imagine your family – what do you see? Apparently some people can ACTUALLY see something. Like the whole “minds-eye” is an actual visual thing. This absolutely blows my mind. I always thought when learning to read and your teacher would say “play the movie in your mind” it was just a saying. But apparently not? My brain still can’t wrap itself around that idea.
When I try to picture things in my head – there is nothing there. It’s like the actual picture of what I’m thinking of is just outside my reach. Like a word on the tip of your tongue that you know is there but you just can’t quite get to it. I remember my oldest son had the skinniest arms and tiniest hands ever and even his newborn size clothing swallowed him when he was first born. But I can’t close my eyes and actually SEE it. The only time I can actually see it is in those pictures of him I took. That’s all I have.
What I have is called Aphantasia. It’s just a variation of the human brain I’m sure. It doesn’t affect my day to day life as far as I can tell. But it does make me value photographs probably more than the average person. And I take a ton of them. If I don’t have my “real” camera in my hands, you’ll often find me with my cell phone in my hand taking pictures and videos of my kids. I want to remember these things forever. They grow and change so fast, and I never want to forget their faces. I may not be able to close my eyes and conjure up an image of them, but I pull out some photos and there they are.
This also somewhat explains why I am so horrible at remembering people and their names!
You can read more about aphantasia here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-the-minds-eye-is-blind1/ It really is a fascinating thing that scientists are just starting to learn about.
Photographing babies and families in Northern Cincinnati