Terry Ratner RN, BS, MFA - nurse, writer, educator - click to return home
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Nurses' Corner
Personal Memoir





All photographs are memento mori. "Remember that you are mortal," "Remember that you will die." To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt….A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence.   —Susan Sontag (1977)

Remember snapshots of the past? The ones we picked up from our corner drugstore or camera shop. We’d file them away, along with their negatives, in boxes and drawers to await a calling that rarely came. There they sat, over years, only to be covered with dust.

My own shoeboxes of curling, yellowing snapshots derive their fascination almost entirely from my personal connections with the depicted matter, which in my case are grandparents and parents, cousins and classmates, and the houses I once lived in. My most recent shots reach inside a subject, as if searching for some answers to unanswerable questions. Sometimes it’s a family member, but more likely it’s a stranger representing a place, or an emotion. I never ask them for the real story, but instead leave it up to the viewer’s imagination. It’s the anonymous snapshot’s immediacy and inherent honesty that connects us to an image. Snapshots remain as windows into other lives — whether it be the photographer or the subject matter.

The photographic impulse, which I admit being addicted to, is separated into two categories: The creative and the commemorative. The first is an attempt to capture something with the snap of the shutter that’s both vivid and beautiful in color and contour. The second and more realistic goal is to halt the flow of time.

Photographs furnish evidence. A photo provides undeniable proof that a given thing has happened. Even though the picture may distort its image, there’s always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is similar to what’s in the picture.

From an artistic standpoint, we instinctively know when viewing snapshots, that they possess a kind of truth that is both profound and absolute. But what that truth is remains an enigma.


I recently shot photographs in Manhattan in an attempt to capture the flavor of the city and preserve an idealized and individualized moment in time.