This is not an empty shell
( This article was first posted in 2008. Updated, it still feels the same.)
Not like “This is not a pipe” (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) the famous painting by Rene Magritte, below
Nothing like that. Well, maybe a little borrowed concept for the sake of this post.
Instead it’s a bit of memory that has a photo of an object as it’s touch point.
When I was a kid, we used to have thanksgiving dinner at our apartment. The cousins always joined us, the good flatware came out, and that’s just what you did.
Mom cooked the turkey in a paper bag to keep it at a certain moisture level, and the pies were a sweet pecan.
But the appetizer was the most unique item.
A seafood mixture with a creamy binder, the origins of which I can’t remember, and bread crumbs.
All mixed together and served in shells. Like the one shown above.
I can kinda remember what it tasted like, and of course the experience of the meal and the hanging with family was the main event.
Mad Libs always followed the dinner. That’s how we showed off our intellectual and clever comedy prowess to each other. Or totally silly and sophomoric tendencies. But we were in the comfort of our family, so you could be as stupid as you liked. All just to entertain each other.
Thanksgiving will never be like that again. Memories that will last forever.
When my mom passed away, we had the task of going through all of her worldly possessions and making decisions on their disbursement. Including all of the kitchen apparatus.
Pots that she cooked her favorite dishes in, utensils that sliced and served holiday dinners, the forks and knives that would only appear once a year.
When these shells appeared, the siblings knew what to with them: give each one a shell to remember those dinners.
I recently moved to NYC, and the shell sits in my kitchen.
Now I share that shell with you.
Or the photograph of it. So, you see, it’s not really an empty shell.
As we move through our short lives, there are elements that hold a secret meaning to each of us. When we photograph them, hopefully there is a common ground that allows the viewer to enter and bring something to it.
We all know though, that each image has it’s own significance to the photographer. A reason it exists, more than as an object or scene that happened in front of our lenses.
The Magritte reference has another significance as well: He was one of my mother’s favorite artists.
It’s not important to always know the reason behind an image, though. It could be a larger story, or a record of life.
We all have our touchpoints.
It’s the anniversary of my Mom’s birthday, today, so it just comes forward in my mind.
She’s been gone 7 years.
And thanks mom, for the seafood dish I’ll always remember. Every year.
I hope you all are making new memories today, and keeping your camera close to interpret those times.