Photographic Memory

The cottage at Lake Hughes, Quebec where as a child I spent several enjoyable summers. Photo by Dad.

When I was a pre-schooler in the early 1960s, my father was an acoustic engineer who owned a consulting firm. He was away on business quite a bit.

When he returned from his travels, which sometimes lasted several weeks, there were things that I could always look forward to. Having Dad back was first, of course. He would be in a great mood and would do a lot of cooking, concentrating mostly on family specialities that he didn’t get to eat while overseas. He always brought presents from afar.

The gifts he brought back for me were inspired — exactly the kinds of things a boy of my age and interests would be fascinated by. I don’t know how he was able to select such perfect presents for me, just one of his five (later, seven) children. From Greece he brought me back a wooden sponge boat with real sponges aboard. On a trip to Hong Kong he bought me a rocket-shaped crystal radio, a magical device that didn’t require batteries. “The radio waves themselves power the radio”, he explained. To me a self-powered radio was like a perpetual-motion machine — a relevation!

It might have been while on that same trip to Hong Kong that he bought himself a camera, a Minolta SR-1. Dad’s camera seemed like an incredibly complicated instrument but now I realize that it was actually pretty simple compared with today’s marvels of photographic technology. A few days after Dad returned home, he would get the slides back from the photofinishers and we’d all get to see images of where he had been.

The amazing thing about Dad and his camera was that they were able to capture moments in time that were different from the other photos I saw everyday in books and magazines — Dad had been to those exotic places and took the photos himself. He had been there!

To a young boy growing up in Montreal, photos and stories of Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, and Europe made me dream of those exotic places. I begged to be taken with him on his next trip but he said that it would be really boring for me because I’d be stuck in the hotel room all day while he was out working. I suggested that while he was working during the day, I could go to school there to learn Chinese so that when I grew up and worked for his company, my being able to speak the language would come in handy.

He didn’t put his camera on ice when he got home from abroad, of course. I still have slides he took of family trips to the cottage, amusement parks, and holidays but our basement flooded in the mid-70s, and much of this visual family record was destroyed. I really have to find the time to go through all his old slides (and my own) and scan them.

I never got to go with Dad on a business trip to some far-away land — he died in 1967 when I was eight years old. I never learned Chinese or visited Thailand but do have a fascination for people and things from far-away lands. I have been to Korea twice to visit my wife’s family where I took many photos that I showed to my own son upon my return.

Thanks, Dad, for instilling xenophilia in me and exposing me to the bite of the shutterbug. Just these two of the many things you gave me has made my life richer in more ways than you can imagine.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Be sure to give Mom my love.

About HoaiPhai

I'm up late digging up the dirt. View all posts by HoaiPhai

5 responses to “Photographic Memory

  • badlandsbadley

    Sounds like there are a lot of great memories wrapped up in those slides.

    • HoaiPhai

      Absolutely right! The strange thing is that I cannot remember some of the old photos with me in them being taken, so there is not so much emotion attached to them. Other shots jump-start memories, like catalysts, and are very powerful.

  • My Nikon Wish List « HoaiPhai

    […] camera stuff to the detriment of my reputation at the utility companies’ billing departments. My father indavertently got me hooked on photography and I’ve been obsessed with it in a kind of  casual, laid-back kind of way. I think […]

  • Paul

    This is a well written and very personal great story. Well done my friend.

    • HoaiPhai

      Thanks you very much, Paul. For me photography is quite an emotional thing… my photos must impart some kind of feeling in myself before I feel I’ve succeeded in capturing the moment. Apart from the memories I have of the magic Dad brought home in those little 35mm film canisters, I also love the gadgetry, physics, and technology of the process. From an objective perspective, I feel my “work” is mediocre but my personal attachment to each image makes the whole thing very satisfying to me.

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