Photos, particularly those we hold most dear, can wield immense emotional power. Just one look can set off a flood of memories and feelings about loved ones, or meaningful life events. For this year’s World Photography Day (August 19), the team at Mylio is reflecting on the immense value of the pictures we take, save, share, and preserve. The photos that become the visual legacy of our lives.

My favorite photo of my older sister

I don’t know who took this photograph of my sister Kathryn. I like to imagine it was a lover who came to visit one afternoon and found her napping peacefully in the warm sunlight streaming through the windows. The black-and-white print looks like it was developed in a darkroom. It was among her things when she died at age 25, after the breast cancer had spread beyond repair. Astonishingly, maddeningly unfairly, it was her third bout with cancer. She first fended off liver cancer at just 14.

A woman sleeps on a bed near a window.

I was 20 at the time, off on a college year abroad in England. I flew home too late after getting the call from home. Since then, I’ve had a long journey with my grief at losing Kathryn, my beloved confidante, advocate, and guiding inspiration. I will always miss her being in our family’s lives.

Still, this photo never fails to make me smile. It helps me to viscerally remember her beauty, humor, wisdom, and creative spirit. The soft half-smile on her lips and posture of complete ease in repose suggest that she’s having a very sweet dream. Contentment warms my heart as I imagine her this way, still.

Photos help conjure memories that might otherwise slip away

When the photo was taken, Kathryn was a student at the USC School of Architecture. Through a connection, she’d scored the guest apartment in the Schindler House in West Hollywood. Built in 1922 by Rudolph Schindler and his wife Pauline, the pinwheel-shaped, concrete-slab house was a Southern California modernist masterpiece conceived as an experiment in communal living. It was just the sort of cool, sophisticated idea and place that Kathy introduced me to throughout my awkward teenage years.

The historic Schindler House in West Hollywood at night, with the lights shining from inside.
Photo credit: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

But I doubt I’d remember that time and place without this photo. I know I wouldn’t remember it as clearly. Today, it’s one of the photos I love to show my son and daughter, to give them a sense of the wonderful aunt they never got to meet.

When I started using Mylio, I made this photo the cover photo for a year in my Life Calendar. So now I see it and remember her almost every time I work with my photo library.

Here’s wishing you a happy World Photography Day, and hoping you feel inspired to find and view your dearest photo memories.

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