Today’s Photo Friday theme is Vanity, so I thought I’d revisit an image you’ve seen before.

Vanity is an interesting word since it has several meanings. When I heard today’s Photo Friday topic, I immediately thought of vanity in the sense of personal conceit: a self-obsessed person primping in front of a mirror. And although I’ve posted plenty of pictures of me reflected if not primping in mirrors, I automatically associated the conceited sense of “vanity” with shop window mannequins, objects designed to trigger our own sense of style and self-obsession (“Why can’t I look like that?”) Most of the shop-window mannequins I repeatedly photograph here in Keene are headless, an apt visual metaphor for the way vain self-absorption makes us figuratively lose our heads, striving to become a pretty body even if there’s no accompanying brain attached.

But then there’s the sense of “vanity” invoked by the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, my favorite. “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher…all is vanity.” Old Quoholeth wasn’t preaching against conceited frivolity; old Quoholeth was pointing (in the most Buddhist of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures) to the empty impermanence of all created things, their existence doomed to pass. What’s more vain in this sense of the word than a photo of a headless bridal mannequin, her splendid finery pointing not only to lasting love but to the eventual inevitability of “death do us part.” Looking at that first picture, which do you see as more solid: the mannequin in her wedding dress or the building reflected from across the street? Lace or brick, the Preacher would say they each are equally vain, each merely a physical facade masquerading as abiding presence. Vanity of vanities; all is vanity. Shop windows, gleaming goods, and the buildings that contain them are all destined to pass, preserved only in the shutter-snap of memory.

    If my juxtaposition of a gorgeous wedding dress and the grim realities of Ecclesiastes seem too dark, keep in mind that I snapped that first picture last September 11th, my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary and a date that we now naturally associate with the fragility of human existence.