One of the world’s great photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson, once said, “Life is once, forever.” He was speaking about his uncanny ability to capture a quintessential moment on film — the fleeting instant when a soldier loses his battle to conquer fear, or a when a child is won over by the joy of a passing parade. Humans are captured forever in photographs, and so, too, is a piece of their humanity.

I think of that as I linger over the collection of family photos I’ve amassed. It’s a frequent pastime of mine these days. I find myself leafing through photos that have long been stashed in shoeboxes and yellowing albums. I can’t leave them alone. And though I have seen all of them before, I look at the pictures searching for something new. Something I missed the last time I nursed a minor obsession with family photos — when I was a teenager and was fascinated more by fashions of the era than the people who wore the clothes.

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