Rooted in a term for homesickness, the definition of nostalgia offered by the OED is a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past.
As I recently worked my way through a century of family photo albums, few of the images, if any, evoked even the mildest sense of nostalgia. Rather, it was a chance encounter with an image of golfer Gary Player that did it. I was both surprised and may be a little bewildered. Why would the image of someone I didn’t know personally have such affect?
I think in part the mood the image evoked reconnected me to a time gone by; the early to mid 1960s. It was the era of Camelot, the Peace Corps, Jame Bond, Dr No. When I was young and naïve and full of hope. Vietnam had not taken over the news agenda; it was before the riots in Watts, before Chicago. Before the cynicism that emerged from Watergate.
The emotion and images of those times streamed back. I could feel tingling in my upper arms.
Nostalgia is a dream; a large dose of emotion peppered with fragments of images, a selected few, sanitized, simplified and reconstructed into a rendering, something we might call a memory of what happened. As suggested by Robert Franks’ book The Americans or some of the work by Gordon Parks, the reality of those times was less pleasant; reorienting the dream towards a nightmare. Behind every silver lining is a cloud.