In this song, lead singer Robert Smith seems haunted by pictures of the girl he lost. Like many Cure songs, it's an emotional song about longing and love.
Listening to songs like "Pictures Of You," you might think Smith was in a perpetual state of heartbreak, but he was lucky in love, finding his soulmate, Mary Poole, when he was just a teenager. They got married in 1988 and stayed together; Smith's heartsore songs are often inspired by literature or observations.
"Pictures Of You" was based on an essay by Myra Poleo called The Dark Power of Ritual Pictures. Smith says that after reading it, he destroyed his old personal photos and many of his home videos in an effort to wipe away his past. He came to regret the decision a few days later.
Smith has given conflicting accounts of what events inspired the song. In other interviews he has said that the song was the result of losing pictures he carried around in his wallet, many from before he was born.
What is certain is that the song is defined by an overwhelming sense of loss. Smith explained the emotions behind the lyrics in a 1989 interview with Music Box TV: "It's about the idea you hold someone. It goes back a bit to a song like 'How Beautiful You Are.' The idea of you hold someone isn't really what that person is like. Sometimes you completely lose touch with what a person has turned into. You just want to hold onto what they were."
Rolling Stone magazine placed the track 278th on their 2004 list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The song has been featured on US teen drama One Tree Hill and the 2012 romantic drama The Vow.