when photos are more than just photos


Several years ago we went on a date one summer evening in downtown Rochester. At that time I didn't have a smart phone and Instagram didn't exist. I just brought my point-and-shoot camera that fit in my purse and I pulled out as often as I pull out my camera-phone now.

I took a few pictures as we walked through Peace Plaza after dinner, but after a few shots JD asked me to put the camera away. I was not very happy that he was not happy to let me take pictures. I was really feeling the artistic vibe. I was really feeling close to him. I experienced it as a rejection of part of who I was. The funny thing is, he was experiencing it as a rejection of him.

We sat down on a bench outside of Mayo Clinic to talk. He shared with me that his dad took a lot of pictures and spent many hours putting together photo albums. I remember looking at those photo albums when we lived with his mom after his dad died. Roy's handwriting was beautiful. It was clear to me that Roy had a creative side and that these photo albums were special to him.

It wasn't necessarily a good or pleasant memory for JD, though. His dad was not healthy, he was bi-polar at a time when it wasn't diagnosed or treated very well. Roy was manic in his picture taking and album making. As a kid, JD was embarrassed when Roy would pull out the camera and resented the time that Roy spent on the albums, wishing instead that his dad would pay attention to him. As a little boy, JD felt like he took a back seat to pictures.

When JD shared that with me as we sat there outside of Mayo Clinic, I understood. I realized that when I pull out my camera on a date night in downtown Rochester, it triggers feelings in the little boy inside of JD, feelings he had when Roy pulled out his camera and JD just wanted him to put it away.


When I take pictures, I usually take lots of shots. Lots of shots. It's the yearbook editor in me. To make sure that I have at least something to work with. I took my job seriously to document that particular moment in time at that particular high school. And then again at that particular college.

I take my job seriously to document each sliver of time in our life. I think that's why I prefer taking candid shots to posed pictures. It will be our history. Someday, years from now, we might pull out the photo album -- or pull up the blog -- and use it as a springboard to remember when.

I use taking photos as a springboard to get in touch with my creativity, too. Which is also an opportunity to connect with the little girl inside of me and let her know she is being taken care of.

She's in this picture. Do you see her? She isn't easy to see, sometimes hard to find. I took this picture on a weekend trip I took for the sole purpose of finding my little girl. I buried her a long time ago and now it's my job now to give her a voice and let her grow up. Sometimes I do that with pictures. Sometimes I do that with blog posts.

As I think about my little girl and JD's little boy, it makes me think of our boy and girls. I do not want them to feel about me with my picture taking and blog posts the way that JD felt about his dad's picture taking and album making. I do not want them or JD to feel like they take a back seat to this bloggy blog or any other thing for that matter.

But sometimes they feel like they do. And honestly, maybe sometimes I am preoccupied with a blog post when I should be occupied with them. Maybe I take out my camera when they don't want to be photographed. I need to be careful about that. Taking pictures is good. Writing blog posts is good. But doing it at the expense of taking time to let them know they are a higher priority, that's not so good. I might be doing it "for them" but I want to make sure that they feel good about it, not frustrated by it.

I think they do feel good about it. One night as JD was reading my Week In Review post, he said, "thank you for doing this for us." The kids, they are all on board with my photos for the weekly review. But every once in a while Sarah might say, "mom! please don't take a picture now" or "you can take a picture, but don't put it on the blog." And I need to honor those requests.


I like to take pictures. I like to document things with photos. I like to have an image to remember a moment that I enjoyed. I like to try to capture the beauty in even the ordinary.

I was sitting in the car wash one winter day, waiting for the water and soap to wash the road salt away, and I was thinking about something I'd just read in the book The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. He wrote about "the spirituality of wonder" and the idea captured me. Suddenly I saw the Gospel right there in the car wash. Isaiah 61:1-3 tells me that God gives me beauty for ashes. That day He gave me beauty for road salt.


We went for a walk around Silver Lake one evening and when we were done, we sat down on a bench to finish our talk. Suddenly a little boy (six maybe?) ran in front of our bench. He was waving his arms, yelling, running towards the woman with the big dog on a short, tight leash. He caught my attention and I watched him as he ran closer to the dog, curious to know what would happen.

When he caught up with the woman, she seemed upset. "You shouldn't do that," she told him sternly. "You should never run up to dogs that you don't know! Where are your parents?" 

He seemed oblivious to her concern. He touched the dog like a hot potato then turned around and ran back the way he came. His eyes and teeth -- already white against his dark skin -- even brighter now with a smile he couldn't contain.

The thing is, all this happened right in front of us as my husband was telling me something that was heavy on his heart. It made him sad that I was more interested in this little boy than in what he was saying. I don't know that I would describe it that way, I really was interested in what my husband was saying. But it is true -- the boy did distract me from what he was saying right then. At some point I became more interested in what happened between the boy and the woman with the dog than what my husband was saying, though I knew what he was saying was more important.

The setting sun was distracting me too. It was beautiful. I wanted to take a picture but I didn't want to pull my camera-phone out because I knew that my husband was sharing something more important than the sunset.

That didn't stop me from being distracted by the boy, though. After JD got up and left, frustrated by my distractabilty, I started to go after him, apologizing, but he was not interested in talking to me anymore right at that moment. So I sat back down on the bench to think.

Why do I get so distracted? Is it understandable? Or is it insensitive? I asked myself. Even if I'm understandably distracted, I can communicate my distraction in a more honoring way. I know this. I'm working on it.

I sat there and watched the geese next to the path. Unfortunately parts of the walk around Silver Lake are a minefield of their droppings. Not so pretty. That's exactly how I felt.

I sat there and watched the sun get lower in the sky, the sky changing with each degree it fell. I wrestled over whether to take a picture or not. Initially I had wanted to take a picture for a reminder of the nice walk we had just taken, and for the beauty of the capture. But this feeling of having frustrated JD and my inner conflict of feeling responsible, that I did not want to memorialize. I tend to want to forget things that don't make me feel good.

I took the picture. Not only was it a pretty picture, but it's okay to acknowledge conflict. You can't work through it unless you acknowledge it.


The same week I got an email from someone who made the comment that I seemed to be doing "great" from my blog. It bothered me. I wasn't doing great. I want my blog to be an accurate reflection of who I am. And yet... there are some things that I just will not share in this public place. It's a boundary I have. This blog is me, but it's not all of me. People who know me know that.

It reminded me of the picture of the sunset that I had posted over Silver Lake.

Am I being dishonest by allowing the goose droppings on the path in the foreground to blend in with the silhouette of the wild flowers lining the path? When things are not going "great," is it wrong to decide not to write about the things that are going "not so great"? Especially while I am in the middle of working through them?

Is it wrong to focus instead on the beauty that can be found?

Sometimes when things are not going great it is an act of worship to focus on the beauty. To look up instead of down. To find beauty in the car wash. To reach for the beauty on the other side of working through conflict.


One evening we decided to go for a short walk around the block. My husband suggested we go for a little longer walk, over the river. At first I protested because it would be a longer walk and we were short on time, but then I reconsidered and said, "oh, yes! then I can take some pictures of the river" because I'm always thinking like that, in terms of what catches my eye.

"Why do you want to take pictures to share with people out there when there is someone right here next to you?" he asks me. "Why do you have to take out your camera? Why can't you just be with me without taking pictures that you end up sharing with them?"

You see, nowadays the photos often end up on Instagram and my blog. Which are my versions of photo albums, but are also social media. And social media is people "out there."

"Me pulling out my camera while we are on a walk is me sharing part of myself with you," I try to explain. I am not good at explaining things like what I think or how I feel. This explanation sounds odd to him because he doesn't experience it that way. He thinks that me pulling out my camera is me attempting to share myself with people out there on Instagram, not him. He experiences me getting more excited about taking pictures than about taking a longer walk with him.

I try again. "I am an artist so I am very visual. Everywhere I go I think in terms of photos and colors and textures. I would be taking pictures whether I put them on Instagram or not. Sure, I share the photos with people out there -- like an artist might share their art in a gallery. But I like to share the experience of taking the pictures with you. For me, that is treasure." 

He nods thoughtfully and takes my hand. I appreciate that about him, he is willing to move past his hurt to listen to my heart. "It's like when I teach you baseball strategy or football plays so that you can understand the games better. I like sharing sports with you, and you want to share photography with me." 

Sometimes we will drive way out of the way to see sports stadiums. Not just professional stadiums, or even college stadiums, but high school football stadiums and baseball fields. I didn't always appreciate the detours, but I do now. It's something my husband loves, so I have learned to have opinions on sports fields. And I have learned to love the games that he loves.

We are learning to share our treasure with each other, and to treasure each other's treasure.


The other night while we were watching Burn Notice on Netflix, I turned to my husband and said, "Hey! You wanna go on a drive to find some pictures with me?" And he knew that I was inviting him to share treasure.

We decided to take the farmers' roads west towards the sunset. We talked and I took pictures from the window of the car while he drove and talked. I didn't feel bad at all that I was taking pictures while he talked. And neither did he.

Every once in a while I'd say, "Oooh! Slow down I want to get this." Or, "Can you stop so I can get a better picture?" And he would. Even sometimes pointing out good pictures to take. He was looking for pictures for me to capture!

It was not a spectacular sunset, but it was a spectacular memory. Captured treasure.


I'm linking this post up with Casey Leigh's On My Heart.

It's a part of my attempt to collect my story.


Amy said...

So much here, Anne. Appreciate you—your heart, your authenticity, your seeking for what's good while still being real. I think the reason I struggle with writing on my blog is when it involves other people. And when does it not? How do I portray life honestly while not diminishing or sugar coating anyone in the stories I tell? It's a challenge. I like the way God allows these challenges into our lives (like the different picture-taking background you and JD have) to keep refining us in our pursuit of being honest and selfless and loving. They can seem to step all over themselves, but God sees the path to honoring it all. I'm wondering here. . . but just know I like the way you collect your story and share. When it's good, I rejoice, but I live life too, and I'm never naive to think any of us has a day without challenges. It just varies on what God gives us the freedom to share.

laura bell said...

This is an amazing post. So much in here. Makes me wonder if my family feels "second" when I say "I just need to finish this post real quick". Will have to put down the laptop more. And I think we all understand that most bloggers keep some of their lives private. But it doesn't mean that we are not sharing our authentic lives. Just that some things can't be shared. And I do truly believe that it's ok to notice the beauty around you everyday. That it is a must! We all have hard times, and we all work through those differently. But there is still so much beauty and life going on around those hard times. That's the reason I started my blog. I have had some rough times the last few years (teens) and I can either spend all day dwelling on the woulda, coulda, shoulda, or I can look around and remind myself that this will pass...and everyday is a new day and a new opportunity! Thanks for posting a piece of your heart!

laura @

Lucy said...

I agree. You have left me much to ponder. I too am grateful for you sharing your story, as I wrap up a difficult day.

Anne Bickle said...

Prayers for you tonight, Lucy. Tomorrow is a new day. ((hugs))

Anne Bickle said...

My dear friend, I appreciate knowing that you like the way I collect my story and share it. I value your opinion. It is tricky to be honest and not diminish or sugar coat. And yet, that is how it ought to be. // Thankfully I am able to share this part of the story because JD is willing to be vulnerable too. Much of my story is also his story. // I sure am glad you feel free to wonder here. I am so amazed by God's goodness in his refining process. I am learning to run to it instead of away from it, though that is not my inclination. // much love.

Anne Bickle said...

Thank you so much for your kind words! I appreciate that you recognized it was a piece of my heart. // It's true, bloggers keep some of their lives private. And there's nothing wrong with that. But I do wrestle sometimes with balancing the desire to be authentic against the need to keep some things private, and doing it in such a way that is honoring. // I'm sorry to hear of your rough times. I'm glad you have been able to find an outlet to express beauty. // xoxo

gayle @ grace for gayle said...

Oh my gosh... that SKY!!! Wow.

gayle | grace for gayle
I'm a #Previvor


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