Photographs are like portals to worlds that don't quite exist. They are static snapshots of an endlessly-moving world, an impossibility that can leave us pondering reality.
Let's say you're sitting in your quiet living room and someone hands you a photograph of Robin Williams. It's an image that was immortalized on a particular day, possibly a Wednesday. Robin just had lunch, and you can actually see a few tiny crumbs in his beard, possibly from a Reuben sandwich. There are a million factors that went into the creation of that photo, just like thousands of hours of work go into a two-hour movie. But the most important things about Robin Williams never really made it.
Just think of what the photographer experienced. Robin would have been loud, funny, quirky, probably doing an impression of someone or other scant seconds before the shutter flickered open and closed. The photographer will have experienced Robin Williams in a way that is impossible to convey with a photograph.
Robin Williams is like the ocean, in that regard. If you were looking upon a photo of the ocean, no matter how sharp the lens or high the megapixel count, you'd be missing out on the constant hum of the ocean, the wet air as it caresses your face, the odd sand particle that impacts your cheek, the smell of low tide.
I look down at the creased photo in my hands. It's the last remaining picture of you. I took it in 1972, on a dreary Tuesday afternoon when we hid in a coffee shop, as the rain pounded the city. Your hair was wet and smelled of coconuts. I remember the faint odor of your shampoo, but of course that detail is not part of the photograph.
I took several shots of you as we sat around and waited for the rain to abate, but this was your favorite. I don't recall what happened to the others. Perhaps they got lost in one of our many moves. Perhaps you shredded them. Perhaps the fire took it, as it did so many things. I can't recall.
I can't recall small details about the photo. You're wearing a pin on your jacket, it's partially in view, but I don't know what it's about. Were we political? Was it a band?
I hold up the photo and show it off to the group. Everyone's seen it, countless times before, but there are still murmurs around, and old leathery hands reach over, offer to pass the photo around our little circle.
I try to remember your name. It's on the tip of my tongue, but I can't recall it.
The circle breaks up. So soon?
"Are we done already? Where's the photo? Who has my photo? ...right, it's in my pocket. Thank you, whoever you are. Do we know each-other?"
The young woman takes me by the hand and walks me to my favorite chair. It's right in front of the bay window. I like to sit there and look at far away storms, watch as they approach across miles of water. I look out and see puffy clouds far away. It's going to be a long wait before they get here, but I have time.
Someone's talking. Someone wants to take a picture with me and the young woman.
"OK, I'm game. But photography, it's inaccurate, it lacks details. See, it's like this..."
They don't understand or don't care. The young woman pulls at my hand, the one that's holding the photograph. She helps pick up my hand, moves the photo higher up, into view of the camera. She squeezes in next to me, smiles. I look at her and at the picture of you. Is she your sister? You too look so alike. There's something in the eyes. The eyes have it.
I look into the camera and wonder what this particular photo is going to be missing. The flash goes off.