Why Photography Matters
Why are we even photographers? Why does our work matter? Why do we chose to shoot the way we do? Why?
LIFE IS SHORT, LOVE IS POWERFUL, AND EVERYONE HAS A BEAUTY THAT DESERVES TO BE SEEN.
Mary Marantz once gave a group of photographers a thought experiment. Imagine your house is on fire, and all your photographs are inside. There are no backups or other physical copies anywhere. What images do you rescue? What does your choice say about why photography matters?
Immediately, I knew exactly which three photos I couldn't sacrifice.
THIS PICTURE IS OF MY FRIEND CHRIS AND HIS BROTHER DAN.
Chris was one of my closest friends in college. I met him when I joined the speech and debate team as a new freshman, and I'd never met someone with his mix of brains, humor, charisma (sometimes cockiness), and warmth. In the winter of my freshman year, Chris was diagnosed with heart cancer. It was a total surprise to everyone. No one knew hearts could even get cancer, let alone that it could happen to a healthy man in his early 20's.
In typical fashion, Chris[http://smittenchickens.com/blog/remembering-a-friend/ took his illness and found ways to make it positive. He had gotten an advertising internship before his diagnosis, and he still went to Chicago to do it over the summer. Every month, he would leave Chicago for chemo, be sick all weekend, and go back to work. He used to make jokes about cancer that were so funny, but in such poor taste. "I've lost so much weight on the cancer diet! It's not quite as good as the amputee diet, but that one costs an arm and a leg." He sometimes joked once he'd beaten the cancer, he'd go on tour as a motivational speaker and author. His book would be called "B Positive," in honor of both his blood type and his attitude. He made all these jokes and plans despite his prognosis, which was six months, tops.
This picture is Chris and Dan in the photo studio at my college. Chris wanted his advertising thesis to look like a real ad, so he asked me to shoot it and had his brother model. After we got the shot, I almost started packing everything up. Almost as an afterthought, I asked Chris to jump in and got these shots of the two of them being goofy together. We all laughed about these pictures, but didn't think they were so important.
Close to a year later, Chris passed away. He'd already beaten cancer twice and was in remission, but he developed an infection in his leg, which spread through the rest of his body before the doctors could help. He was a fighter who lived two years after getting his six month prognosis, and losing him was a complete shock[https://youtu.be/0N-_J_WVIwM.
Not knowing what I could possibly do to reach out to everyone else who was hurting, I turned to what I knew - photographs. I made copies of this photo and handed them out at our on-campus memorial the day we found out. Years later, I've gotten into cars with friends and seen that photo taped to their dashboard. It meant so much to me to have a way to remember him as he was, and to know that even as time passes, pain numbs, and memories get fuzzy, this little snippet of time remains unchanged.
HERE'S MY PARENTS, MARK AND BETTY, ON THEIR WEDDING DAY.
This is a little bit of a cheat, but these two photos always meld into one in my head. My parents actually don't have many photos of their wedding, because their photographer didn't expose properly, and every one of their ceremony photos is completely black. This one was taken at their reception, which was held in my grandparents' barn. Their ceremony and reception weren't fancy, but everything seems to have been done with love. My dad's parents offered their barn for everyone to gather. His mom made their wedding cake. Both my grandmas made food for everyone. My mom's mom made her wedding dress.
In the moment this photo was taken, my cousin Katie had just dumped a huge handful of birdseed right on my dad's head. That's not exactly what most people picture when they think of the memorable moments from their wedding.
Their wedding photos don't look like what you'd find in Style Me Pretty or the Knot, but they are some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen. There's a whole relationship summed up here. There's my dad's stern face, almost succeeding in hiding the tenderness buried under the surface. There's my mom in the background, face full of surprise and unbridled laughter.
I didn't exist when these people started their lives together, but these photos let me imagine what that might have been like for them. It makes me feel connected to my past, to where I came from, why I'm even here today. Having a photo like that gives me a glimpse into the ground floor of a very long, happy marriage in a way words could never quite accomplish.
THIS IS ELAINE AND JOE, CHRIS' PARENTS, ON THEIR WEDDING DAY.
For a long time, they didn't think they had photos from their wedding at all. When we asked for a few photos to hang up next to our own wedding pictures, they said none existed. A few months ago, they reunited with an old friend, and it turned out she had Polaroids of their wedding that just been sitting in storage!
Only 4 photos exist from that day, but I think they are amazing because we almost never got to see them. They were so young, so beautiful, so hip, so in love.
Like with my own parents, this is a photo of a story just beginning. It's two people on day one of so many together. These people are the reason Chris is here today, the reason he's the amazing man he became. We'll show this photo to our children one day when they wonder what Nonna and Papa were like before they were anyone's grandparents. Again, this photo doesn't have the glossy perfection you'd find in a magazine, but I have an emotional reaction when I look it. That's so much more beautiful than anything you can pose and style.
These photos mean so much because I feel connected to these people and their stories. Our photography can do that for people. That's powerful stuff.
IF YOU HAD TO PICK JUST A FEW PHOTOGRAPHS TO SAVE, WHAT WOULD THEY BE, AND WHY? WE'D LOVE TO HEAR ABOUT IT IN THE COMMENTS.
The Walk Through a Wedding workshop had some eye candy as well as soul searching, so check back on Wednesday for some of the beautiful photos. The theme was "The Notebook," so there's plenty of 1940's gorgeousness to take in.