The challenge this week is to find love in a photograph.
It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Except for crime scene photographs which make their way into my day job, not many pictures in my life fail to express love in some way.
Obvious candidates exist, including our few wedding photographs and abundant photographs of our children.
Instead I chose Jim’s albatross and frigate birds, and am hoping that by the time I finish this post I can explain why.
I realize neither the word “albatross” nor the word “frigate” (which bears an unfortunate similarity in tone and meter to a two-word epithet I have been known to utter when tripping over things) immediately screams “love” to most people.
During life in The Before I probably would have had an emphatic negative response to the word “albatross,” no doubt because of its colloquial meaning of punitive weight. That rap on the species likely originated in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which one poor fellow was compelled to carry an enormous dead bird around his neck.
Regular readers know that I see hearts–the plump symmetrical symbols which have come in our culture to symbolize love, especially during this season of Valentines–everywhere. I see them both where they exist and where it requires an interpretive eye to see them.
I see them in clouds, in rocks peeking from snow and slanting on one side, in shadows cast behind leaves, in flowers.
(It was another person who pointed out to me, after I had churned out quilts for several years, that hearts appear in all of them–either as featured motifs or recurring quilting patterns. Even the strictly geometric pieced quilts had hearts quilted in tiny stitches, holding the quilts’ layers together.)
Even I don’t see hearts in these pictures of Jim’s. But I do see love.
It is not anthropomorphism. I do not think these birds necessarily stand ready for a committed loving relationship–although we discovered seconds after Jim took this frigate’s photograph that his grand display of inflated red would prove irresistible to a female of the species. Who, after all, could fail to be impressed by such a sight? (Or by any type of creature that is designated as either “Great” or “Magnificent”?)
I chose them for both what is within and just outside the frames: what a viewer can see and what I know to have been there.
Inside the frames are things Jim loved about this world: its brilliant colors and creatures, leaves and trees and geological formations, the spectacular beauty of sights he’d never seen before.
As he took these photographs, a blizzard was burying the East Coast in snow while he felt equatorial sun on his skin and heard birds clattering and shrieking and baby sea lions barking.
(Jim quickly learned to do an amazing impression of barking baby sea lions.)
What you can’t see is the love that surrounds these pictures. At the other end of the lens was a man relishing every second of a trip he knew would be his last, with the family he loved and will forever love him. Around him were ancient and undisturbed volcanic rock, teal vistas of the ocean to which he had always been drawn, and both his children and new friends. He was weighted down only by photographic equipment, a camera strap around his neck and lenses in a backpack.
As he took picture after picture I wonder if he knew he was gifting us with images which carry so much love. Just one of them can transport us back to that time, to the warmth of that sun, the sounds of those birds, the feeling of being able to reach out and touch his arm or the back of his shirt as he joyfully watched an albatross nesting at the end of our world.