I want to share an experience I had today morning; stumbling upon an old box full of documents, old photographs, and nostalgic memories.
It was an old “magic bullet” box.
I woke up this morning, bags under my eyes, took an icy cold shower to wake myself up, and had a shot of espresso (afterwards I felt like a normal human being).
I was doing some writing, and then Cindy helped me clean a bit around the house, to pack some stuff for her younger sister to take back home.
We looked through our closet, and we saw the old “magic bullet” box. I thought it was an empty box, which I was going to throw away, but then I felt things inside.
I took it off the shelf, opened it, and dusted off some dust on the sides of the box.
Inside, I wasn’t quite sure what was inside. After rummaging around, I saw old photographs of my mom, my father, and old documents of when my mom took me to get tested for some speech problems I had as a kid (talked too fast, didn’t pronounce vowels correctly).
Looking at these old personal documents, I felt a huge wave of nostalgia and emotion flow through my body. These documents that my mom had faithfully saved showed so much of my personal history– when I was 9 years old. I also learned a lot about my mom, when she saved a document when she saw a speech pathologist regarding her accent when she was 40 years old (she is now 60). It was a piece of paper that is over 20 years old, and still exists.
I also thumbed through some old 4×6 prints, and loved the “haptic” feeling of holding these memories in my hand. Many of the photos I saw for the first time, and a lot of old snapshots that my mom shot showed SF 20+ years ago. I was also fascinated with the random nick-nicks she decided to save, instead of throwing them away.
Which made me wonder, “Why did my mom decide to save these things, out of all the stuff she owned?” They obviously had some sort of personal significance to her.
Another thing I learned about my mom: apparently she was shy and introverted before coming to America. Now everyone knows her as a social butterfly, and extremely extroverted. This was something I had no idea (up until now).
Holding these physical memories in my hands was a truly magical and emotional experience. Which made me also wonder: will any of our “digital memories” be “retrievable” 20+ years from now?
I saw some old CDs in the box my mom had as well, and couldn’t be bothered to try to hunt down an old cd rom reader. But with the printed documents and printed photographs, I could see them without the agency of some sort of “media-reading” device.
Personal memories. What do they really mean? Nobody cares about them but us.
I feel that memories are a deep part of being a human being. As photographers, I think most of us start taking photos to document our own personal memories. Personal memories which matter to us, which bring back good times (and sometimes bad).
I’ve been quite influenced by a lot of these “minimalist” and “decluttering” philosophies of late, as well as the Zen concepts of “non-attachment” and so forth. But if we lose these personal memories of ours, what kind of link do we have to our past?
Gratitude to your ancestors
Sometimes I forget all the work that my ancestors had to go through to help me get to where I am today. While my grandfather was escaping the Korean War, studying to become a doctor, and feeding his 10 brothers and sisters, here I am getting around with Uber and using my smartphone. Whereas my mom was struggling to learn English and adapt to life in America, here I am enjoying fancy meals in restaurants and not stressing about paying the rent.
Why are personal memories important?
I don’t think we should be slaves to the past. I think it is important for us to treasure our personal memories, to help us have a sense of appreciation of the present, and for the future.
I think that personal memories show us how far we’ve come– and gives us a moment to reflect on our accomplishments, rather than simply seeking to gain “more”.
I once read that happiness is a combination of appreciation and achievement.
We need to appreciate our past accomplishments, and to treasure our past memories. However we also need to achieve things in life– to not just chill and watch Netflix at home. We need to be active, we need to constantly move forward; action should be the theme of our lives.
Will I look at this again?
I used to be overly obsessed with documenting personal memories. However nowadays, I simply try to be “in the moment”. I no longer need to photograph every single meal that I have, or every single cappuccino I have.
I no longer need to do a “selfie” every single time I see my family or friends. I simply try to enjoy their company in the present moment.
But there is something to be said about making personal memories during truly important or key points in your life. It is finding a balance: not over-documenting every mundane detail of your life; but when the moments or memories really will count.
And I’m guilty of this; many of the memories I document with my camera end up dying on my hard drive, or now the “cloud”. But all the memories I truly appreciate– I print them out, frame them, or put them into photo albums.
I don’t think it really matters whether you shoot with a digital camera, a film camera, or even your smartphone. I would just recommend to print personal memories which you truly care about. After all, you have a duty to your future ancestors– to also show them how far they have come, from your humble beginnings.
So find that golden balance between shooting “enough” (but also avoiding to shoot “too much”). There are no answers or formulas– this is something you need to learn for yourself.
And never forget– make photos that are personally meaningful to you— not anybody else.
Treasure your personal memories.
Saturday, April 2, 2016– feeling a deep sense of gratitude of all my blessings in life; the love of my close friends and family, my health, and the ability for me to pursue my passion and work.
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