The number of actors changes, growing from seven to eleven, as families are expected to grow. There was a time when we could all fit, with room to spare, on the sofa, but over the years, more cousins were born, children grew into men and women, second-cousins were born and we were forced to spill onto the floor. Arrangements, too, change. In the first photo, Amanda, the oldest cousin, holds Josh, who was at the time, the youngest cousin, in her lap. In the last photo, Amanda still holds the youngest in her lap; this time, however, it is her own son, Will. Additions to the family are introduced into the ritual as naturally as if they had been there all along. With the symbolic structure in place, there is no awkwardness in having new actors in the drama; they are family, recognized as such through whole other rituals.
My favorite aspect of our ritual and the resultant photographs is what didn't change, a "sameness" that spanned a decade and a half. From 1984 to 1999, there is a common mood of comfort and even playfulness visible in each of the photos. Despite being distinct individuals and adults (included in the 1999 image was a mother, an athlete, an aspiring lawyer, a baby, and so on), we stayed our parents' children in the photographs.
As anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff writes, "because ritual works through the senses, bypassing the critical, conscious mind, it allows one to return to earlier states of being. The past comes back, along with the ritual movements…bringing along unaltered fragments from other times." My cousins and I seem in these images to exist outside of time.
Not entirely, though: captured at the peak of an eating disorder and time of depression, the "me" of 1996 has always stood out. I have always referred to those years as "when I was sick," or "when I was crazy," as if I had been another person and not myself. In my family, it is a time rarely spoken of. Therapists tell anorexics to throw away their clothes from when they were at their worst and not to take pictures of themselves, in fear that they will later long for those days of absurdly low body weight. Forgetting, for both my family and myself, played an important role in my recovery. In fact, the 1996 image would not have existed at all had I not rejected my mother's advice to check myself into a hospital over the holidays.
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here
Shtupping in the Shadow
of the Bomb
The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Beats, Rhymes & Nigguns
Matthue Roth & Juez
Susan H. Case
Josh Gets his Checkup
The Ritual of Family Photography