Thursday, March 25, 2010

Ode to My Grandfather

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I'm kinda sorta addicted to Flickr! I feel like photos express myself more purely, without all the over-thinking and editing that goes on when I'm trying to express myself in words. It's the best way to convey the sense of awe and wonder that I feel about the extraordinary details in ordinary objects. And I hope that when he grows up, my son will look at the photos I took of him and realize just how much I love him.

But photography isn't just a way to express myself for me. It's a way for me to reconnect with my maternal grandfather. He loved photography, and he's the one that introduced me to the world beyond snapshots. I can still picture this one photo he took of fall leaves in a stream. It took my breath away and awakened something within, even though I didn't know it at the time.

Now, you might think, from what I've written so far, that we had a great relationship. We didn't. I was petrified of him and I might say that the fear bordered on hate. There are many pictures that he took of me in which I'm frowning or giving him the same cold, icy look I have in the picture shown.

I didn't even know why or care to find out why I felt that way. I was still very young, and I just instinctively knew that I did. And I continued to feel that way until his death, when I was about 10.

Then, something happened. I looked at my grandmother, whom I liked very much, and felt the same fear and disgust I felt when I used to look at my grandfather. And it hit me... I was afraid of her because she was now the oldest person I knew, and oldest meant that she was the closest to death. And the fear that I had felt around my grandfather had actually been fear of death!

The sense of guilt I felt then was immense. I never got to know my grandfather, the person, because I had unfairly allowed my misconception about death to judge his character.

I lived with that guilt for over 15 years. What saved me was the photo I showed above. I was looking at it and was thinking about how I openly admitted that I did not like him, and yet, he still treated me like a princess. Whenever we were visiting, he would often come home from work with a little package from Sanrio. I remember he even brought home a flowery dress once, which was totally out of character and surprised everyone. I mean, imagine, a 70-year-old man in a suit and a tie, walking around the children's department looking for something pink!

And as I was remembering this, it occurred to me, "If that's not unconditional love, I don't know what it is." That elusive unconditional love that everyone seeks - I had it, and I didn't even know it.

This revelation actually made me feel worse, and I started bawling like a little child. But something within told me that it was OK. He loved me unconditionally, and he forgives me for that too. I like to think it was the part of the DNA that we both share. After 15+ years, I was finally free of the lingering guilt and felt closer to my grandfather than I ever had.

And now, every time I pick up my camera, I tap into that shared DNA and our shared love for photography. Although it's impossible to reconnect with him in the physical world, I feel more connected with him at a much deeper level when I'm taking photos. It's almost a spiritual experience rather than just a way to document what I see.

Well, this turned out to be more of a book than an ode, but I wanted to share with you why photography is such an important part of my life.


  1. Fear of elders is a common Asian value.It is supposed to be a good virtue.Looking back through the filter of memories,you might have tempered the fear with the passage of time.If he were still alive,would you still feel the same?I hate my dad and I doubt I will change the way I feel.
    Guess what,I have seen you before.I used to live about eRock and caught a glimpse of you before.Danny and Sunny talked about you a lot as I have a Japanese wife.(But she had returned to Japan with my daughter).I didn't know you were an artist like me and I didn't have a chance to talk to you.I was going out when you entered.
    Your writing style is very Japanese full of its aesthetic such as miyabi(雅),iki(粋)、mono no aware(物の哀れ)and wabi sabi.It is amazing that you came to US at an early age but still retains your heritage.
    I had thought about writing a blog to,like you put it,facilitate my self-discovery.But it has to wait before I have enough good photos.I hope I don't forget too much when my blog finally comes.
    I was in New York a few months ago and went to eRock on a Saturday night hoping there would be a party.But there was none.Desperate,I yelled,"Kenny"from the street.Luckily,he heard me and came downstairs.He didn't tell me where everybody was.I gave him souvenirs and left and has not heard from them since.Where have they gone?

  2. I think I know who you are. Danny mentions you often too.

    As far as whether I would feel the same if my grandfather were still alive - You're right, I wouldn't feel the same, but that was the point. When he passed away, I finally realized that what I felt was based on a misconception that I had about death. (Long story short, I thought death was contagious when I was very little.) And the point I was trying to make, however feebly, was that all relationships are based on who you think that person is, not the actual person. Because you can't possibly know everything the other person is thinking. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, good luck with your blog, if you decide to start one!

  3. Not really.You have a unique way of looking at things.You feel the same way towards all seniors?What about people with terminal disease or cancer?Sorry if I am bugging you.
    Relationship based on perception of what the other person is can be dangerous.I married my wife based on my concept of Japan and its portrayal in media.
    I am going to France for at least a year.I try to write as much as possible and
    just wrote 3 reviews in Amazon.Someone said one of them is the best he has read!Hehe.
    I guess eRock avoids me because:-
    1.I might want my stuffs back but I don't
    2.They found my secret stash of porn.I am only human.
    Take care.Ki o tsukete