On the Rhetorics of Nostalgia
Dad Painting a House

One of my favorite old family photographs is an early ‘70s snapshot of my father painting a house. Shirtless, sun-tanned, paint-spattered, and accompanied by a small stash of (presumably empty) beer bottles, my father is glaring directly at the camera with an expression of playful annoyance that reveals his characteristic brand of humor—a look that suggests he disapproves of something but is willing to laugh about it. The photo was taken by his younger sister, my aunt, and in it I recognize the subtle sibling dynamic between photographer and subject. It documents nothing spectacular or life-defining, just a mundane piece of everyday existence that, but for the camera, would have been entirely forgettable. I suspect that neither my father nor my aunt remembers that particular day, much less the actual moment immortalized by the shutter, and yet I have been carrying around this casual snapshot for over a decade, tacking it up on refrigerators and bulletin boards in my various abodes from Boston to Los Angeles. To me, the photo is at once both familiar and foreign, a visual reminder of an era that I cannot exactly be reminded of because it occurred before I was born.
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