The Day I Inadvertently Took a Picture of a Child’s Imagination
I took a picture of a child’s daydream manifesting into form.
I’ve thought long and hard about sharing the story behind this picture with others, knowing for sure I could be laughed at or seen as a crackpot, a liar. But after much thought I realized something important – it doesn’t matter if anyone believes me, what matters is that I witnessed something amazing and that one amazing thing will be with me for the rest of my life. That one amazing thing has re-juvinated a sad and deflated imagination and my life is more brilliant, colourful and fulfilling because of it.
Meet Charlotte. She is a 6 year-old girl who enjoys merry-go-rounds, kittens, and books about airplanes. She doesn’t like corn (it gets in between her teeth) or anything green (it makes her think of boogers). In terms of the thoughts that consume her sweet mind there are many; thunder is God’s cough which makes her sad that God can get sick from time to time. Giraffe’s have long necks to make up for the fact that they can’t fly and stuffed animals are real animals with frozen souls (she is determined to free every single one of their souls by the time she is 50).
First off, taking Charlotte’s picture was not intentional. I was strolling through a parking lot with my camera, intending to scope out an area where I could shoot some abstract industrial images. That’s when I saw Charlotte sitting on an old rusted chair in a parking lot, by herself, quietly thinking.
There was something about her immediately that pulled me in. Perhaps it was her far away gaze that had me curious or that she was still and silent despite all the noise and activity going on around her. Whatever it was I took a picture of her; a little girl sitting peacefully on a rusted, old chair in a cold, concrete parking lot with only a building and wire fence for decoration.
And then I took a look at the picture on my camera and thought I was going mad.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. This little girl that you see in the picture above, sitting on a merry-go-round was NOT sitting on a merry-go-round. She was sitting on a chair in an old parking lot. I kid you not. That merry-go-round in reality was nowhere to be found. I swear this. I tore my eyes away from the picture on my camera and looked back at Charlotte and confirmed, yes, she was sitting on a chair. I looked back at the picture on my camera and saw the merry-go-round. Was I crazy? For some reason the camera caught something that my eyes could not. As I stared at the picture on my camera my heart pounded. What was I witnessing here? I looked up again at Charlotte, sitting on the chair. This time she was staring softly my way. I was dumbfounded and a little freaked out. Wouldn’t you be if this had happened to you? I had heard of people capturing images of ghosts when taking pictures – but what was this? I stood motionless, starting back at her, my camera held out in front of me like an idiot. She gave me a little wave and I waved back and found myself walking towards her.
“I took a picture of you,” I said as I got closer, realizing how creepy that sounded. I looked for a mother or father and saw a couple of people through the window of the building on the lot but they were busy talking. She perked up, “Can I see?” she asked. When I showed her this picture on my camera she stared at it for a few moments. Then suddenly, she sighed and shook her head. “You didn’t wait, it was going to get so much better if you just waited. You took the picture too early when I was only halfway done through imagining.”
I was struck dumb. Taken the picture too early? Not done imagining? A realization slowly washed over me as this bright, friendly little girl stared up at me with her dark, deep eyes; the picture I had captured was of a child’s daydream in progress. What other explanation was there? All I had to do was look back into Charlotte’s gaze to know I was right. I had documented the only known image (that I was aware of) of a child’s imagination.
Slowly, feeling like my heart was in my throat, I asked her if indeed the image in this picture was her imagination.
“Yeah, that’s neat! I wanted to play on a merry-go-round so I just started thinking about it and then all these other thoughts were going on top of each other and making it all up for me. It was fun. I was going to imagine balloons too and an ice-cream truck.”
We looked more closely at the picture and she pointed out the giraffe – that’s when she told me about how giraffe’s secretly wish to fly which was why their necks were so long. I asked her what the weird green thing was – “a booger monster!” she said with disgust and then abruptly burst into giggles. She then went on to explain the kitty cat on the merry-go-round, how it looked like her cat Poopsy. She remembered watching a Winnie the Pooh cartoon yesterday and laughing really loud at Tigger because Tigger looked a lot like Poopsy. She gazed at the picture a bit longer, “it’s not a bad merry-go-round, and it looks fun. I wasn’t done filling it out though. You broke my thoughts.”
I told her we could try again, she could imagine it once more and I would wait to take another picture, making sure I got the whole, fully imagined merry-go-round, but she looked unimpressed. “Nah, it won’t be the same. It will be fake then and everyone knows you can’t make true what you don’t believe in.”
I apologized to her, I didn’t mean to break her thoughts. She accepted my apology and we talked a bit more about the merry-go-round and how she wished she lived close to a park like her cousins did and that merry-go-rounds were her favourite things of all time, along with ice-cream and airplanes. From there she admitted to hating corn and telling me about her secret thoughts on God and stuffed animals.
Suddenly I heard a name being called; Charlotte. I looked up and saw who I assumed to be her mother calling her over from inside the building, a look of concern on her face. Charlotte got off the bench and began to skip over to her mom but not before turning back to me and waving, “Bye! You should take pictures of your imagination too!” I wish, I thought sadly as I watched Charlotte disappear into the building. I found myself suddenly frustrated and sad. I had just witnessed a most spectacular event, an event that could shake the very foundations of reality as we know it and no one else but Charlotte was around to witness it. Who would believe me right?
Shortly after, I got the picture developed, framed it and hung it on my wall. Charlotte’s words came unbidden to my mind in that moment; “You should take pictures of your imagination too!” Maybe I could, maybe I couldn’t but damned if I wasn’t going to try. For days I would sit and imagine, practicing if you will, training myself to focus on my imagination so I could take self-portraits while I was in imagination mode. I was rusty at first, thoughts of work, relationships, and financial worries would creep in from time to time. But eventually imagining became easier. I saw myself going on African Safaris, swimming with sharks, publishing a book, dancing at Stonehenge, holding a baby gorilla and crying upon the wonder of it all. Coincidentally (or not) during this time, life became more colourful. I began to smile more, have more fun. Life, in a weird, weird sense, became a little bit easier.
Every time I look at the picture of Charlotte on my wall I send her a thought of thanks and smile. I may not be taking pictures of my imagination, but my imagination is certainly filling my life with imagery I never…well, imagined. Some of it has even manifested into form; I just recently came back from a 3 week trip where I visited a gorilla sanctuary and was allowed the great honour of holding a baby gorilla in my arms for the first time. I cried at the wonder of it all.
I inadvertently took a picture of a child’s imagination and my life is the better for it. Anyone who comes over and sees it on my wall asks who the child is or why I have it up. I used to try and explain it, what really happened that day, but I would get a certain look from them; either a ‘that’s nice’ humourous look or a ‘do we have to have her certified’ one. They could never see that it was a picture of a little girl’s imagination in motion, surrounding her, becoming form. To them it is only a picture of a child sitting on a merry-go-round and nothing more. I guess their imaginations are not powerful enough to consider any other possibility. They will need some practice, like I did.
So, I’ve given up trying to make others see the truth of what I saw that day because everyone knows you can’t make true what you don’t believe in. Or, at least Charlotte knows that, and now I do too.
This post is in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge over at The Daily Post – 1000 Words. I love these types of challenges and it has been awhile since the last one I participated in. Imagination is important in my life, it is a big reason why I love books and reading so much. This post is dedicated to imagination and the child within us all.