Looking to the past

11:35 AM

my grandfather as a young man
teaching art to his students
my father & his siblings getting a peek at the brand new baby
my grandfather holding my dad's hand
my father
I'll be completely honest with you, I was never close to my grandfather. He was an incredibly private man of few words. In public he was a great orator, a great leader and pastor. And yet at family gatherings you rarely heard him speak. He passed away a few years ago and oddly enough it is only now that he is gone that I feel like I'm getting to know the man that I was so used to seeing crouched over his laptop and a Bible. 
He will always be remembered for his work in the church but I've come to relish discovering his identity through the lens of his artistic self. You see my grandfather was, among many things, a painter, photographer and musician. I believe my father and I get our love of art and aesthetics from him. As a young man he painted and taught art at his local school. After he was exiled to Uzbekistan for his work in the church during communism he began to work as a photographer to cover up the fact that he was still pastoring. Besides taking photographs for work he was brilliant at documenting the life of his family. I feel incredibly lucky to have such a treasure trove of memories of my father's childhood. 
When I helped my grandmother pack up their house after my grandfather passed away I sifted through dozens of boxes chock full of black and white photographs with ripped up corners. There was a story behind every single one and it was moving to hear them come to life through the words of my grandmother. Even besides the boxes she possessed there are hundreds more strewn across the world in the homes of my aunts and uncles and our friends. 
Recently I've been taking the time to go through them and collect ones that really stand out to me. Some I pull because they capture a rare tender moment between my grandfather and one of my aunts or uncles and some because artistically they are just so beautiful. 
A few weeks ago I sat by my scanner, the photos littering the floor around me, and just took each one of them in... I looked into the eyes of this man I knew so little about and tried to understand his life, tried to dig deeper. What were his secret dreams? His desires that he never saw come to life? His beliefs that he perhaps feared to share with anyone? Did he have regrets? What were some of his biggest joys. 
I recently came across this quote online: "If you want to learn what someone fears losing, watch what they photograph." He didn't often say it, and he certainly wasn't known for being affectionate, but if I were to apply that quote to my grandfather I would say he feared losing his family and loved them deeply. 
Perhaps I'll never really know the truth about him but I feel like I'm starting to put the pieces together one yellowed photograph at a time...

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