I lost my father when I was 16. He passed when he was only 51. I have memories of dad, but photos are proof of my memories. My memories can stray and meander, but my photographs of him bring me back to the place where memories begin. Even photographs like this one taken long before I was born, in a place I never existed physically, connect me to him. I get a glimpse of his youth and his history. When fitting the pieces of his life together, I have photos to pin to those years, to fill out the arc of his life.
My father served in the Korean War. This photograph was taken in 1952. He knelt down and someone causally took a picture of him. A nanosecond. But this photograph has been with me my whole life. It is tattooed on my brain. What was dad thinking? He has his whole life ahead of him. He is confidant, cigarette in hand. His boots are dirty. What had he been walking in? There is a light in the tent. Was there a generator? Was he posed? Did someone tell him to kneel down and he got into that elegant pose on his own or did someone guide him? My mother told me he wrote long letters to his family. Was he alone? Or did he just want to let them know how he was doing?
Without a photo, a name is just words on a page. It is meaningless without context. This photo is proof of dad's existence. Not only his existence, but he is in a certain place in history, Korean 1952. He was an American solider fighting there. Not only does this photo have meaning to me, it has meaning to those who had loved ones in that conflict. Maybe they died long before they were born, but if there is a photo, there is a better chance at knowing a name.