Too Hard to Keep
March 14, 2015 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Photos that are too hard to keep "The following is a selection from the Too Hard to Keep submissions Jason Lazarus has received in the past year—responses to a request for photographs deemed too difficult to hold on to by their owners." A photo gallery from Vice. NSFW, some images disturbing. posted by chainsofreedom (22 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
This made me cry. Each photo, I started wondering about what tragedies would make these photos difficult to keep. And then I started thinking about my own photos, some kept in a drawer, more recent ones kept in a folder I never open on my computer, that I can't bear to look at again.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:59 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wonder how consent works with these, with regards to those who appear in the images, especially nudes. I'm assuming there are no releases. Those who submitted them might feel release at their publication (so to speak) but those who appeared in them--especially before the digital age before everyone was obliged assume an image can travel anywhere, fast--might experience this as fresh pain or violation without consent or even warning. [Yes, I myself have reached an age where it's possible I could be in a photo too painful for someone else to hang on to. Adulthood is a hearbreak.]
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:07 PM on March 14, 2015 [9 favorites]

Some of them make total sense, but there are others where the emotional difficulty is not at all visible from the outside. I'd love to see more of the submissions.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:26 PM on March 14, 2015

I found the photo of the river particularly unsettling, for some reason.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 6:37 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

The cat made me cry.
posted by lazaruslong at 6:41 PM on March 14, 2015 [18 favorites]

I wish I had known of this sooner. I could have sent them my whole wedding album (instead of burning it as I did).
posted by Samizdata at 6:42 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I really wish I hadn't looked at these. Oddly disturbing.
posted by Annabelle74 at 6:45 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I appreciate that they realized the first shot of the cat might not be upsetting enough and included the closeup as well.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:00 PM on March 14, 2015 [7 favorites]

The one with the person whited out struck me hard enough to go away for a while. I don't know why. Thx.
posted by umberto at 7:11 PM on March 14, 2015

posted by benzenedream at 7:16 PM on March 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Somewhere on my hard drive is a folder called "don't look" that has pictures of the cancer that killed my dog. Part of me thinks that there might be some scientific value that might help somebody, but I can't imagine inflicting them on anyone else or creating an entire site devoted to things like that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need a drink. I'd almost successfully blocked that information.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:23 PM on March 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

Back in the 70s I had my own darkroom, and spent a lot of time shooting schoolmates and our high school lives.

Since then I've been able to track down some suubjects and give them ccopies, but I still have boxes of 5x7 and 8x10 black and white prints shhowing every part of school life, from lunchroom scenes to gym class.

I took many portraits. Several are of friends who later died of AIDS, or cancer, or accidents, or heart disease.

One particularly good series shows a freckled 16-year-old with a timid smile. Weeks after I gave her prints she was shot by her mother, who then committed suicide.

Every year it's harder for me to handle these photos, but I cannot throw them away. This post touched a deep chord. Thanks.
posted by kinnakeet at 7:41 PM on March 14, 2015 [21 favorites]

I have an entire box of old pictures in the attic that I cannot bear to open. I keep meaning to sort through them and organize them one day, but I know there are a lot of pictures from bad dark days mixed in and I can neither stand to look nor get rid of them.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:05 PM on March 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of my favorite pictures of myself was a black and white of me pumping gas. But it was taken by my abusive shithead ex, so I unceremoniously tossed it a few years back, along with many other pictures from that time. If I still had those pictures, I don't know if I could participate in this project. I don't think I would feel liberated by internet strangers trying to interpret my pain. But different strokes, I guess.
posted by Ruki at 8:47 PM on March 14, 2015

A few years ago I was contacted by the archivist of a (at the time) LGBT organization I had helped found. They were assembling a history of the group. The photo editor wanted me to ID some people in photos, where no one who was there but me was still living. Or at least no one else alive they knew how to contact, even with social media. The photos were from the late 80s to mid-90s. 50 years old and I am one of the last survivors?!
F*ck AIDs.

Now, where is that box of photos I took back then, and who were those people anyway?
posted by Dreidl at 9:59 PM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

Once I looked at photos as little snapshots of people. Now, I look at them at little snapshots of moments: We were here, together, then. Or: I was there, then. Sometimes, now, I'm not even sure it was me, or us, or them, but I suppose the then and there is inarguable. But now I also have to deal with myspace profiles and webpages and usenet posts and facebook pages of people who were, but now aren't and even (especially!?) the me, who now, isn't. Funny that. Growing up and old is strange in this new century, but t'was ever thus. Right? *sigh*
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:50 PM on March 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I don't have many physical prints due to wanting to save money when I get photos developed, but I have a lot of hard-to-look-at photos on Flickr, and of course facebook. Most of them involve ex-girlfriends, or photos of my dog that died, but the hard ones are of one of my best friends who died from a drug overdose. They're hard to look at, but I still do every once in a while. The ones of me and my ex's I keep on facebook, but they're set so only I can see them.
posted by gucci mane at 12:43 AM on March 15, 2015

If you're at all prone to melancholy, I would advise against clicking that link. You know when you're driving to work and you pass a bus stop, and at the bus stop there's some crazy-smiling 73-year-old lady sitting there by herself with a dirty old baby doll in her arms, and the light changes and you drive on but your mind keeps flashing back to that lady and her doll? These pictures are like that, over and over again.

I'd pay good money to un-see that poor kitty cat.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:00 AM on March 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

In re consent: the sender sends no explanation of why the photo is too hard to keep, but can request that it only be added to the exhibit face down, or in the envelope it was sent in, etc. with the subjects' faces not showing. of course, this means that in a photo with multiple people, they all must trust that the sender will respect everyone's privacy, or if the photo is of someone other than themselves. One would imagine that since these photos are "too hard to keep" that the senders didn't go back and ask the photo subjects if they consented to have their images in an exhibit.
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:19 AM on March 15, 2015

There are photographs I probably shouldn't keep, like the selections of Polaroids of my nude fourteen year-old self I took with the assistance of a combination of a self-timer and the pre-selfie long arm of my also fourteen year-old sex buddy. They're technically child pornography even though they're me, taken or instigated by me, and the best course of action would probably be to just tuck them into the middle of the kitchen trash bag and let them go, but—I am occasionally wistful for that time, and that freedom, and the guy I was then, to say nothing of having a waist size with a three in it.

I lost track of one, which I'd used as a bookmark in my copy of the Field Guide To The Birds Of North America, which I lent to a friend who use it as a bookmark in a variety of reading material until he forgot and left it tucked into a hymnal from the church where he was organist and returned it to the church. Luckily, the church was Episcopalian and, impossibly, another friend stood up to sing, opened his hymnal, and had a sputtering laughing fit when he realized exactly what he was looking at.

"Um, Joe? Guess what I saw in church today?" he asked, calling that afternoon.


"Your erect penis."

"Oh, har har. C'mon."

"No, that's actually what I saw. Tucked into a hymnal in the pew, actually. Looks like you're about sixteen or seventeen, and you're on a bed with blue stripey seventies-looking sheets and—"

I flashed red hot in panic.

"Wha—what!? What the—oh fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck! What am I doing? No—don't say! I mean—what am I doing?"

"Looking pretty happy with yourself, to be honest. Hands behind your head and a big smile."

I was able to retrieve the photo, and now it, and its fellows, no longer live in any of my books or in a vintage Curad tin in my medicine cabinet. I've hidden them so well that, as I'm writing this, I actually can't remember where I hid them.

Other pictures, though, hang in suspension.

In the drawer where I keep shoelaces, old SO-DIMMS, lightbulbs, chargers for things I don't own anymore, lamp timers, silicone simulated man parts, calculators, and green felt, there are two identical cellular telephones. They're both old Samsung candy bar phones bought for me by the fish that got away, one has a broken screen because I sat on it, and one is radioactive.

The broken one is just a broken phone.

The radioactive one contains one particular photo—the last one I ever took on that phone—and thus it will might well stay in a drawer with shoelaces, old SO-DIMMS, lightbulbs, chargers for things I don't own anymore, lamp timers, silicone simulated man parts, calculators, and green felt until the end of the world, because it is vibrating through multiple universes in which I (A) keep it, (B) transfer off the photo, and (C) toss it into the rest of my batteries and other electronics recycling for the next time I drop those things off.

The one troublesome image, beyond the obvious itchy points of photos of the fish that got away, is a jpeg of a just-deceased sixteen year-old shar pei who hated children, old people, and the skyline of Charlotte, North Carolina and who did her level best to see to my safety and security over the fourteen years I was in her custody. It was time, she had lived long and lived as well as she could, and the fact that I killed my own dog meant that she did not die alone, in seizures and scared in the little den she kept under my dining table. My ex nudged my elbow and asked me to take her picture there on the stainless steel table, and it did not look like she was sleeping—it looked like she was finally off guard duty, gone elsewhere, and there was no going back.

I don't need to see it, though. The image is left on my retinas, the little square of the photo taken on the little elegant cell phone, and the scene there, with my ex and my mother and poor, sweet, old Rose and the vets crying along with us, and it will never leave me.

I will not give away the physical thing that is that telephone, which is, like all sacred objects, imbued with a power that will last only as long as the one who made it so lasts.

One day, though, I may take it out of its drawer and tuck it into the folds of the panel I made for the AIDS Quilt for a friend, and which I have never been able to let go of, because it, too, is radioactive. Like my yo-yo that glowed in the dark, what made it special makes it dangerous, so I bury it and forget, with apologies to Kate.

All these documents like snowflakes, white specks lost in the blizzard of how tough life is, sometimes, and so we keep the home fires burning lest we freeze.
posted by sonascope at 9:20 AM on March 15, 2015 [14 favorites]

Excellent comment, Sonascope. You know how to tell a story, dude.

I could relate to your mortification RE: those photos. Early in my drag days I was a guest on a local radio show along with a bunch of my fellow queens, and naturally we all took a big bunch of photos to document the night. A few days later I was emailing some files to one of my bosses at work, and somehow I ended up sending a clutch of the photos from the show. I was not "out" at work, and if I was going to out myself I wanted it to be on my terms, not accidentally like that. When the boss lady told me she'd gotten a bunch of pictures of some sort of "transvestite party," I burst into laughter and played it like a joke, like it was just some sort of wacky, Cacophony Society-esque prank event thing and not a bunch of trans gals having the time of their lives. I was totally acting on instinct, I had no time to figure out if it was best for me to be honest or deny everything, so I kind of split the difference. Yes, it was me and I was in drag, but it was just some artsy fucking around and I wasn't, you know, transgender or anything.

She never mentioned it again, and I worked there for years after that. Sometimes I wonder if she told other people at the job about those photos. I like to think she either didn't care enough to mention them, or she respected my privacy enough to keep it quiet, but who knows? At this point, I'm kind of past caring.

Abject humiliation can be good for you, sometimes. Having your secrets dragged out into the light can seem like an unbearable fate, before it happens, but then sometimes it happens and you survive it and that's one less thing you have to worry about.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:01 PM on March 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the cat one was tough. I knew exactly what I was looking at in the first one; I've had a few pets put down over the years, and I always stay in the room because that's what I have to do, and I've seen the light go out enough times to get a bit choked up when I see a similar example.

They are there one second and just gone the next. I hate that moment.
posted by quin at 3:33 PM on March 15, 2015

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