Only One Photo Away | Opinion

Only One Photo Away | Opinion


I live a 428.7-mile drive away from my mother. As she prepares breakfast for one in my childhood home, I lie asleep, enveloped in the sounds and stenches of my first-year dorm. While she fixes her hair for a big meeting, I have a heated debate on Annenberg Hall’s top five beverages. While she settles down with her favorite show before bed, I try to calculate how many times my Solo cup has been filled in the past hour.

Clearly, my mom and I lead very different lives. But despite the distance, we’ve found a way to stay connected beyond phone calls or text messages: through images in our shared camera roll.

A few months before moving to Cambridge, realizing that I’d never have enough storage capacity on my phone to keep up with the thousands of images I’d presumably be taking at college, I decided to give in to a nebulous, all-knowing space: the cloud. As a result of that decision, every image I take can be accessed from my mother’s device, and vice versa.

This strategy has its pitfalls. By nature, a photo album presents an opportunity to create meaningful bonds between photographer and viewer. A touching objective, sure — but there are parts of the college experience one just doesn’t want their parent to see. Thus, I created a hidden album, which she has yet to find. The rest of my life, however, is fair game.

Predictably, sharing these intimacies, abstractions, and minutiae with my mom has stimulated a dialogue unlike any other. I’ve been forced to field a variety of interesting questions, like why my posture looks so bad in pictures, what the name of that person in my photo album who looks like Mark Zuckerberg is, and why there aren’t any pictures of me studying.

But regardless of these small annoyances, our shared space is still a wonderful thing. It represents a step towards the transparency that can be fostered between parents and children, despite the jolt of fear that this vulnerability often elicits for people my age.

Such an anxiety is all too familiar to me: As a child of a single-parent immigrant household, I craved my mom’s praise. I kept my head down, did well in school, and made nice friends, trying my best not to cause her any problems. I concealed from her facets of the real me. I’ve found that since entering college, the shared album has started to break down this barrier.

Beyond acting as a device for introspection, the photo album also helps to ease the burden of our physical separation. As I imagine may be the case for many of my peers as well, attending college away from home has created some strain on my relationships. Communicating long-distance is hard, and sometimes I can’t muster up the energy to give a play-by-play of my week over the phone.

But when I struggle to find the right words, my photo album can fill in the gaps. My camera roll tells the little stories of my life: the happy moments, like the day I got free Zinneken’s, to the less pleasant ones, like the time I realized that the strange smell in the dorm was coming from a molding slice of what I imagine was once pizza that my roommate had left in the fridge six months prior. When I can’t find the words to describe how I feel after a bad night out or convey the feeling of my pounding headache, the album has me covered.

Ultimately, the album acts as a sort of interactive diary. Nothing compares to the simultaneous feelings of joy and surprise that come with discovering a picture of my mom’s new Swiffer, or stumbling on a sneaky shot of my middle school gym teacher walking her dog.

Before consciously internalizing the idea that my photos exist in a common space, I never realized how much of my life I chose to capture through images. This semester, I have begun to reflect on what kind of narrative I’m creating through photography — how true a picture (no pun intended) I’m painting of my time on campus. In one fell swoop, a collection of my favorite people, best meals, and most questionable outfits can be accessed, my album an amalgamation of all of my highs and lows.

But despite the wide array of pictures that it carries, not every important moment makes it into my shared album. The story of my semester extends beyond my Tatte order to the more visceral moments of college existence: late-night heart-to-hearts, sweaty dance parties in the middle of the common room, and the butterflies I get before taking an exam. In that spirit, I’ve recently started trying to distill the collection: I print out my most impactful photos to let myself reflect on what I believe is truly worth sharing.

If you struggle to pick up the phone to call your loved ones during a hectic week, I recommend trying out a shared album or two. It’ll give you the convenience of streamlining your life updates — but more importantly, it’ll let you share a piece of yourself with those who care.

Julia S. Dan ’26, a Crimson Editorial comper, lives in Straus Hall.