The Photos You’re Not In

After a covid-induced two-year break, 2022 marked the ten-year anniversary of a local festival tradition I share with some friends: After pregaming at one guy’s place, we all walk down to the festival — but not before taking a group picture in front of a bunch of dumpsters.

Every year, this picture has happened on the same weekend, in the same place, using the same method: We try to get someone driving by to stop, pull over, and take the shot for us. The only thing that keeps changing is the people.

Some people, like one of my best friends, appear in every picture, in the exact same outfit, in the exact same pose. That’s some remarkable consistency, and yet, he too has, of course, changed a great deal in the decade that has passed.

Others, like me, only appear in half the shots. That’s the price of starting your own business, of long-distance relationships, of traveling the world and a whole bunch of other choices: You can’t dance at every wedding, as we say in Germany.

Some people only appear once, then never again. Others show up every other year with a new partner. The tradition is both fun and highly emotional. You can’t scroll through those pictures without reflecting, and thankfully, our host keeps an updated feed on his website.

As someone who hasn’t been there for all the photographs, I can’t help but wonder: What happened in the years that I wasn’t there? Where was I and why? Ultimately, however, I’m just grateful to be part of something larger, even something as small as a group of friends taking a picture.

Just like every stranger’s photo album contains lifetimes of memories of people you’ll never meet, you can’t be in all the pictures of even the people you know and love. There’ll always be photos you don’t make it into, and that’s okay.

We each must follow our own path, and if they lead us to the same crossroads every once in a while, that will be enough — as long as we stop to take a group picture, of course.