I am the official photographer.  It’s almost always me curating the memories of an event, corralling people into group shots, taking pictures of the flower arrangements, capturing candid images of laughter and conversation.  Sometimes, dancing as joy-filled as it is cringe-worthy.

I also take photographs of the non-events in my life, which is of course the majority of it, a large swath of ordinary days filled with images of the sky’s changing colors, the tree out my window, the faces of my children, the glasses on the table.  I take pictures of everything, and as I’ve noted it is often the most random images which, ultimately, carry the most salient memories.

Words are my lingua franca, there’s no question; words are my default way of capturing an experience and my instinctive way of trying to express an emotion.  But there are some things that are beyond the reach of words.  Often I grab at those things using my camera.  When I look back at pictures I’ve taken of the sky, or of Grace’s teddy bear packed in an overnight bag, or of Whit’s baby foot against my hand, I can see something that I haven’t yet been able to put into words.  This is when I feel most frustrated by my attempts at writing, when words seem clunky and imprecise, as though I use ten sentences to circle around a kernel of truth without really conveying it at all.

If I had to choose one way to record my life it would be words, certainly, but I am deeply grateful for the texture that pictures provide.  There are others who would choose another way, of that I’m sure.  People for whom the instinct pushes them to pictures, or perhaps to music; other ways to translate and share their human experience.  I think this Gilchrist quote gets at some of that:

I think colors made sense to him the way words to do to me. – Ellen Gilchrist, Winter

What’s your most basic language?  Words, pictures, music, or something else entirely?  What makes the most sense to you: color or words?

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  1. Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I wish I could capture the pictures I feel. I try, but they come up flat, emotionless. I get closer to my truth with words, but those often fail, too. Maybe I haven’t found my way yet.

  2. Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    I love your perspective on this. Photos speak so much more to me too than words. And I often, like you, feel like I use so many words and still don’t come close to capturing what a photo can so easily capture.

  3. Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:08 am | Permalink

    I’m definitely a words girl too. (Though my husband is also a writer, he takes hundreds of pictures every month; I take a handful.) I find though that my writing is often its richest when I try to capture a scene as though I’m taking a picture of it. I guess there’s some wisdom to that “show, don’t tell” axiom we all learned in grade school.

  4. Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I am going to have to say neither words nor photos. I often come up short with both methods. Luckily I have an insane memory and I find that I rely on that primarily. And maybe music – nothing brings me back to time in history like a song does.

  5. Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    Words are my way too. But more recently I have fallen in love with pictures. As you say, they add texture. And I love capturing the non-events too.

  6. Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    I am also the official photographer, though my real, soul-deep way of capturing life is with words. Every line of this post resonates so deeply for me. Thank you.

  7. Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I’m partial to a combination of the two – which is one of the main reasons I scrapbook. And something I love about blogging. I’m deeply attached to both – choosing feels like being asked to choose between sight and hearing…so let’s hope I never have to!! Very thought provoking!

  8. Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I also am the official photographer. Which means there are very very few photos of me anywhere. And that makes me feel kind of sad sometimes. Not for the now of it. But for the future. When we’re looking back. When the kids are older and looking at photos from their childhood. I’m almost never in a photo. Maybe all of the words that escape me in some form every day will be a sort of pictured memory for them. The words that they won’t read until they are grown. I will hope that is the case and that through my words they’ll be able to picture me.

  9. Jill
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    My default is words– running around in my head, offering a running commentary of thoughts and feelings. I write to relax and problem solve. I talk too much when I am nervous. It’s always been words. Yet- as I am moving towards being more present in the moments of my life as they unfold, I find myself being drawn more frequently to images- the random ones that you refer to. Last night, my son tucked into his bed, fingers stroking his favorite stuffed animal as he slipped into sleep.
    For me, this practice of being here, now, requires that I shut off the words in my head. Maybe the words in my head are what stops me from being in the moment to begin with? Thanks for the opportunity to ruminate.
    Also- an interesting tidbit: there’s an artist who lives in my building and we both have young kids. Recently, we were talking about how we mark our kids’ growing up. I’ve been keeping a collection of my daughter’s progression through samples of her emerging and developing writing (symbols to letters, her name, and finally her creative expression.) The artist, he’s also been collecting artifacts of his son. He saves samples that track his son’s development in creative expression through drawing. We were amazed that neither of us had ever considered the other’s way.

  10. Haile
    Posted April 25, 2012 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Being a graphic designer, it’s a combination. Words are where I start, then comes color and texture and meaning through typography, images are the cherry on top.

  11. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    What a perfect quote! Words make the most sense to me, but pictures provide another frame of reference that can change a whole experience.

  12. Posted April 25, 2012 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Photographs of non-events are usually my favorites. And there’s so much less pressure as the photographer to capture the shot!

  13. Posted April 25, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Definitely a words person, no doubt. Have I shared with you my theory that the best photographers are introverts? Ol’ extroverted me always wants to be in the middle of the action, which is a terrible quality in a photographer. I always bring a camera along and never remember to take photos. This brings me back to an interesting conversation I had with a friend of mine. She said that there were so many family stories she needed to get down, but that she didn’t really like to write. Pictures, she said, is what she responded to. I suggested she put together an old fashioned photo album every few months and write a few brief stories that she wants to remember to go along with the photos. Best of both worlds!

  14. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Words for me, pictures for my partner. And on days where neither would do (like capturing the belly laughs of our wee girls), a video.

    It’s difficult to capture it all through one medium so why not take advantage of technology and let it help us freeze that moment in time for us just as we remember it? Colors, emotions, laughter and all!

  15. Posted April 25, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    as though I use ten sentences to circle around a kernel of truth without really conveying it at all.

    -exactly. I do the same!

    However, pictures are my language first. I’m visual. Then expressive. I sense color in words (my writing is usually jam packed with imagery but not much else) but I am overly verbose in writing. e.g., I ramble.

    This picture of you was delightful. I get a real sense of your writing style through this piece.


  16. Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    I think the combination of words and pictures together is so powerful. How lucky you are to be using the combination of the two to create a swath of memories for yourself and your family.

  17. Posted April 25, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I love words. But your post inspires me to take more pictures. I think the writer’s palette improves with vivid images. It often lends credibility to the texture of the emotions you put down on the page.

  18. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

    Words, definitely words. I’ve gotten closer with a few people that see mostly visually, and have realized (to my shock) that not everyone sees the world written out in fonts. Surprise!

  19. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

    Pictures are for me primary, preceding words, but not the pictures I can take, the pictures that float in my mind, the ones that words might bring into light in someone else’s mind. That was why I loved filmmaking, and yet felt frustrated at having to write what was better just made with pictures. I found screenplays to be roadmaps often read by those lacking in imagination, and novels movies perfectly rendered in the space between writer and reader. Maybe it’s all a river’s journey to no words, no images, perhaps some music utterly beyond my grasp but not my heart…