I dug through my photo collections yesterday trying to find a particular shot that I may or may have not taken on a trip to Uzbekistan last year. I was unsuccessful, either because I didn’t take the picture, or I did but it wasn’t as good as I remembered it being.
It doesn’t matter. Once I was in my Photos app there was no reason not to keep looking. (On the contrary, there were lots of reasons to stop what I was doing and address my actual current life.)
I have a huge stack of old photo albums that I still carry with me and lug from house to house and country to country. I used to display them in a low bookshelf that has also been dragged all around the world since my parents gave it to me back in the early 1990s. For a while the pictures shared the shelf with knick-knacks and souvenirs. On the bottom shelf was a shoebox full of unsorted pictures that I promised I would someday put into proper albums. I still have that shoebox, and I still promise myself that I’ll do sort them someday.
Eventually the bookshelf overfilled, and first the knick knacks and then the box of pictures were removed to make room for more albums. (I also made it a point to start buying albums that were slim, because there just wasn’t much space on the shelves.)
Eventually I had to create another shoebox—though this shoebox was actually much bigger than a shoebox—to accomodate the photo albums that I was unlikely to flip through regularly.
Because I did flip through most of them regularly. Not daily—that would be weird and obsessive. But every now and then I desperately felt the need to look at the faces of old friends, or the fragments of past lives, and my heart would ache until I was satisfied.
I was a latecomer to digital photography. I couldn’t afford a DSLR when I was younger, and even after I could I didn’t like how heavy and slow they were. I clung to my film camera until the last developer I knew shut down, and then I made the grudging switch to a point-and-shoot, the only type I was willing to pay for. It was just this summer that I finally let myself graduate to a proper digital camera, and an old love has been rekindled.
But I digress.
At various points in my life floor space has come at a premium, and my photo albums had to be stored in a closet or my parents’ house. In order to keep my access to them, I started digitizing them. I could store them on my computer along with my digital ones, and little by little critical mass was reached and my photo albums are now, again, in a closet. I haven’t digitized all of them—I just don’t have the time. But a few key ones.
And then a few odd ones, come to find.
While I was looking through yesterday I came upon this picture, taken in 2005 somewhere in Ovorhangai province in Mongolia. It was raining and the river was flooded. There was no bridge over the river, but we were in a virtually indestructible Soviet jeep so we just drove right through it. This was one of those magnificent flash floods that pop up on the steppes from time to time, where a slim creek because a raging torrent in just a matter of minutes. If we had arrived a minute or two later we wouldn’t have been able to ford the river as we did.
Further up the river, a group of horses had become separated from each other by the rising waters. Out of genuine concern we watched as the group splashed across the water to reunite. Last to rejoin was a baby who was too scared to jump in the water, even though every moment of hesitation make the torrent more dangerous.
I’ve seen these pictures countless times and told the story to anyone who cared to listen, so it doesn’t surprise me that I had these pictures scanned. I was surprised, though, that I’d scanned this one obviously accidental shot. This picture is unedited on my computer: it’s taken through the windshield and out of focus. Probably is the was the last picture in the roll and I was just trying to end it. Somehow today I find it beautiful, and the point of all this scribbling has been to let you know why I wanted to share it.