Ellison #2: The Photos in the Suitcase

The tunnel vision I have because of my caffeine high is beginning to fade. I’ve never been so into looking at such ordinary family pictures.

I raise my head and look around the lounge area of Starbucks on Geary and 19th, and notice everyone is looking at me and my roommate, Josh (not Lorenzo, whom you hear me talking to in Episode 1. Different roommate.) We’ve been so consumed and hyper-focused, we’ve used three round tables to sprawl out the contents of the dusty suitcase we’ve just found in a dumpster on our block. We have piled old black and white pictures next to our cappuccinos and pastries.

It feels like we’re doing something illegal, like jumping a fence to explore an abandoned building. The kind where you need to be sure you bring a flashlight and wear good shoes, because there’s broken glass everywhere. That’s how haunting and intimate this feels.

But here we are, virtual voyeurs, trespassing into a stranger’s life in pictures.

A family, clearly Japanese-American, occupies our speeding thoughts. Most of the time, people force you to look at family pictures and I’m almost always uninterested. There’s something about albums that constrict pictures into mundane household décor. The posed ones are selected and organized chronologically and the bad ones (usually candid) are bunched up in a jumble in the back. This suitcase contains it all. Prim and clean to out of focus and accidental, it even has rolls of film and negatives. I want to inspect every single one. Here are some of them:

This young girl keeps showing up. There are several pictures of her in this mustard colored dress. It looks to me like a high school graduation. Perfect event for a photographer in the family. She’s seen in cap and gown. Then a dinner party. This seems to be too precious to trash. The owner of this suitcase must be related to this girl. Her father? Mother? Uncle?

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Here’s an incredible picture of a mom and her child on a backyard swing. One with the mom and one with just the kid. The second one has the mom’s worried hand in the shot.

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And there’s this series of camping pictures. Tall redwoods, sprawling blankets, and reluctant children playing in a river. Beautifully done against the backdrop of the American West. This tells me this family is so assimilated into quintessentially American past times like camping, they must be first or second generation.

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This one is one of my favorites. A cropped shot of a ship from the point of view of the dock. Notice the reflection of the busy, rippling water on the bottom of the ship. These waters must’ve been pretty clear. Where the hell is this? Is this a San Francisco dock? The ship looks anchored. Was this taken when it was leaving or just arriving?

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This picture was clearly taken in Japan. Those imperial buildings erupting with pointed rooftops. Is our photographer visiting his or her homeland? Or were these pictures taken earlier? Perhaps, its his or her parents.

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Look at this woman! Her outfit, her glasses, and her hair. Check out this mod/mid-century modern background. And she’s holding this awesome old-school mic so daintily with two fingers.

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Is this the little girl that graduates later?

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Who was cut-out of this picture?! The cut seems very neat and straight.

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I love this candid picture of this jolly man. It looks like a joke has just been told or maybe a reaction to a hit and run snapshot.

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Finally, this has got to be a picture taken on a dock. Everyone seems to be looking up at something and waving (greetings or goodbye?) The guy in the wool coat looks worried or a little troubled when everyone else looks excited. Was this taken the same day as the ship picture? Or this family is just well-traveled?

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The best part about these photos is that they’re taken so incredibly well. It’s obvious that our mystery photographer did this professionally or as a serious hobby. The different sizes and formats show that he or she is versatile. There are multiple takes of the same subject, showing an effort to get a perfect shot. But what’s killing me:  WHY DID I FIND THIS IN A DUMPSTER?? Such good quality family pictures should be kept forever, right? Do photographers ever throw away pictures? Especially ones of their family?

What is the story here?

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