Posted by: kerryl29 | December 26, 2011

A Remembrance of Things Past

For many people, photography’s most noteworthy asset is its ability to capture and preserve precious memories in a mode that is both widely accessible and easily, if not universally, understood.  A glance at a still image can awaken a flood of recollections; therein lies its power as medium.  It’s not the only method to such a means, but it almost certainly is the most broadly attainable.

John McDevitt, on his blog, demonstrates this underlying photographic principle on a regular basis.  In a recent entry, using a photograph as the visual inspiration for a story about a senior prom circa 50 years ago, John hit the snail squarely on the head, as per usual.  In so doing, he prodded me to delve into a subject that I have been musing about for some time:  the potential for new photographs to serve as something of a surrogate for old ones as an invocation of memories.

My wife and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary this past August.  In commemoration of the occasion, my mother wanted to present us with a special gift.  Months in the planning, she designed and ultimately created a matted three-window wall hanging that included:

1) a photograph from our wedding day–a black and white image that was taken as a candid while, ironically, my wife and I were posing for a formal shot

2) one of the original wedding invitations that were sent out, and

3) a photograph of the location where the ceremony was held

The entire piece was headed, in impeccable calligraphy by renowned artist Tim Botts, who happens to live approximately one block away from my mother’s home.  The calligraphic word?  “Remember.”  It’s a marvelous, touching piece of work and one that my wife and I treasure.

There was only one problem, of a sort, and that was associated with the third numbered point above: the photograph of the location.  The wedding was held at the Lake Ellyn Boathhouse.  The only appropriate image my mother could find came from a local historical society.  A scan was made of what was a fairly low-quality original.  Beyond issues of quality, there was one other issue–the wood siding on the boathouse in the image was red.  No one I know has any recollection of the boathouse as having ever been anything other than brown.  In any event, the building was most certainly painted brown at the time of the wedding.

Less than entirely satisfied after the presentation of the gift, my mother approached me about photographing the boathouse myself.  She would then replace the original with a print of an image I produced.  I, naturally, agreed.

In early September of this year, just a few weeks after receiving the gift, I had the opportunity to scout the location in preparation for shooting it under suitable light.  Though I’ve lived not far from Lake Ellyn for the lion’s share of the last four decades, I had never photographed it, or even seriously considered doing so.  But my scouting expedition revealed more potential than I had presumed.

I returned a few days later in even light, for the shoot.  Lake Ellyn is almost always a breezy spot, which tends to wreak havoc on reflections, but I managed to catch a relatively low-wind moment.  The image below is the one that went into the revised wall hanging.  It’s a rather unremarkable shot, in my view, but it more than adequately suits the intended purpose.  This is almost exactly what the scene looked like on the day my wife and I were married, which of course, was the point of the presentation.  The final version is now even more special, if that’s possible, than was originally the case given that my image is part of it.

Lake Ellyn Boathouse, Lake Ellyn Park, Illinois

We’ve come full circle.  A photograph taken more than ten years after the event being commemorated is now an integral component of an article designed to serve as a locus of memory.  Sometimes it’s possible to create a new remembrance for an old memory…through photography.

Epilogue:  I was so taken with the Lake Ellyn location that I resolved to return in late October, when the trees–hopefully–would be at peak color.  And so I did.  On a very chilly morning in late October, I arrived before sunrise, and shot the boathouse from a variety of spots.  In my favorite of the group, shot less than 30 minutes after sunrise, a small group of ducks serendipitously provided added interest to the colorful scene.

Lake Ellyn Autumn, Lake Ellyn Park, Illinois


  1. Beautiful photos, especially the October shot…and interesting back-story, too.

    • Thanks, Scott.

  2. Thank you for sharing this story. And though the creator often remains anonymous, the last picture says (he) has his ways of showing off.Happy anniversary.

    • Thanks very much for taking the time to comment. It’s much appreciated.

  3. I hope I can prod you often Kerry, this is a fine story. You do have a way with words. Very astute first paragraph. I’ll bet your mother had as much fun in the making of the gift as in the presentation.

    I really like your October image of the boathouse. The ducks give life to the image.


    • Thanks, John. And you’re absolutely right–my mother did enjoy putting the gift together at least as much as she enjoyed the presentation. She’s always said that she has no creative talent; the successful completion of this project–which was entirely her design–conclusively proves otherwise.

  4. Wow, that fall photo is just absolutely perfect! The colours and the reflection are magical.

    • Many thanks, Cindy.

  5. Such a beautiful place for a wedding! Your fall photograph is stunning, and to think if the original photo had been perfect you wouldn’t have been inspired to go back. Oh yes, and congratulations on your ten years + of marriage! ~ Lynda

    • Thanks, Lynda.

  6. Great story. I’m assuming the title is a reference to Proust. I’ve read about and seen other re-photography projects; I’m glad you got to undertake one that has personal significance. (Coincidentally my anniversary also falls in August, this past one having been the 24th.)

    It’s easy to agree with you that the Autumn picture of Lake Ellyn is by far the best; it’s something I can imagine as an old-time (or modern-day) postcard. Even better, maybe you can sell a framed enlargement to the owners of the boathouse for them to display inside.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • Hi, Steve. Yes, the title is in reference to Proust.

      Good idea re the fall print; unfortunately the owner of the Boathouse is the Glen Ellyn Park District–not heavily into print purchase.

  7. I love that fall shot of the boathouse. And the waterfowl in the water just seems to add a peaceful accent to it. Great shot.

    • Thanks, Bob, very much.

  8. That fall shot is amazing!

    • Thank you very much!

  9. Ahhhh…. the past… I am glad the orig place was still there. To many times we try and find our past places and find disappointment… newer construction, demolition or even worse no access to the orig perspective. So happy with your last shot, hopefully not your last of this memorable place.

    • Thanks, Mike!

  10. This looks like a lovely place! The fall colors are beautiful!

    • Thanks, Jennifer. Lake Ellyn can be quite picturesque under the right conditions.

  11. And all the more special because you took the photo, I think (at least I feel that way with my photos). I like that photos can spur memories/feelings. I think it’s not all that easy to do though. Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks very much!

  12. Kerry….this is beautiful…especially in autumn…love the colors!
    I nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award! Congrats…

    • Thanks for the nomination, Judy…it’s really gratifying to receive it.

  13. Aww, congrats on ten years! The last photo looks like a postcard. I love all the colors!

    • Thanks very much for the good wishes!

  14. What a difference the time of year makes on that second Lake Ellyn shot! That’s a lovely photo, so full of color.


    • Thanks very much, Mel! I was somewhat surprised myself to see what a strong locale Lake Ellyn could be under the right conditions (light, foliage, etc.).

  15. Amazing story and beautiful photos. Thank you! All the best in 2012!

    • Thanks very much; much appreciated!

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