A maroon photo album sits collecting dust in a storage room. If that album was to be opened, I would find a life I only know through photos. In some, I am a toddler in a pink and white dress dancing by a barb fence. Children all around me with dirty faces and wild hair run, laugh, eager to be in front of the camera. When I close my eyes I can almost feel the dirt of the earth touching the soles of my feet and the humid air wrapped around me. I am drifting back to a memory written across the details and faces of strangers. When the moment disappears I am at my desk processing images.
Even the simplest images have the potential to captivate an audience. The mind likes what is recognizable. If it were not for two squash in the photo that goes almost unnoticed on the bottom left-hand corner, I would have passed by this photo of a beautiful Sudanese mother holding her baby in her arms. The neural networks in my brain went off when it associated the squash with my personal memories.
For the first two years of my life I lived in a Ban Vinai, a Thai refugee camp. At times, food was scarce in the camp. My mother used to make boiled squash with a side of rice. I remember her telling me stories of how my family would sit around a tiny wooden table to eat. She would feed each of the children first because she worried that our little stomachs would cry out in hunger. Sometimes that meant there was no food left for her. At times when she unfolded these memories streams of tears would run down her cheeks. In every image of her from Thailand, she is a scrawny woman, sometimes holding a baby and sometimes standing stiff, unsure of how to interact with the camera.
Seeing hundreds of photos each day, the faces of the people become a blur to me. It’s easy to lose the curiosity of a new eye. I forget easily that I was an infant strapped on my brother’s back being carried all throughout the village. The faces I see in the photos aren’t so distant after all. They become me and you. It is such an amazing thing how something so simple as a squash can connect us to these faraway lands.