Take the Photo

Last month my friend’s husband passed away. We were all stunned. Because the family had moved away from Texas not long ago we were unable to mourn with them as we desired. One friend still in Texas suggested we create a memory book to give to the family. The book allowed us to share our memories of him and love for him and his family, thus processing our grief and allowing us to mourn with our friends even from afar.

It was easy to write memories of him and think about how much richer my life is for knowing him. What was not easy was finding a photo of him. I scoured my photo folders. While I found several photos of his children and his wife, I found none of him. Where were the photos of him teaching my cub scout den about fishing? Where were the photos of him wearing an apron and happily grilling up a storm for the throngs of people in his house and pool? That is the first thing I see in my mind when I picture him. Is there really no photo? Where are the photos from when he invited friends (including my husband and oldest son) to the flight simulator at his work?

Sadly I wasn’t the only contributor to the book who had only stories and no photos of this kind man who had devoted his life to service.

His death was less than two weeks after that of my grandfather. While I do have photos of my grandfather I do not have many. As I sought out photos of both of them this month I’ve been struck by the value I place on these precious artifacts of a person’s life.

Me with my grandfather and cousin.

I’ve always been a photobug. I saved my babysitting and birthday money to purchase a point and shoot I found in the Canadian Tire found sale flier when I was young. I discovered great pride in my first “good” camera, passed down to me from my father when I was a teenager. Following high school I worked at a photo shop for several years. In order to sell the cameras and give advice I had to use the cameras to acquaint myself with them.

My current camera. I’ve come a long way from 35mm point and shoot I had as a child.

As I learned more about composition, exposure, and other aspects of good photography I grew frustrated the photos muggles took. Between the low-lit, weird angle photos from college and the grainy, too far away, poorly process wedding photos, I started to put my love of photos on a shelf. What was the point? I didn’t like the photos others took but I didn’t want to be critical or mean. It was easier to stop caring about photos than deal with the disappointment. I likewise stopped taking so many photos. So many of my friends and family members preferred to not have photos of themselves. I certainly didn’t want to disrespect them, nor did I want to appear weird or stalkerish.

It wasn’t until after my children were born that I rediscovered my love of photos. The birth of my first born coincided with better technology. We got our first digital camera when he was a couple months old, afterwhich I promptly set up a flickr account and invited all our family and friends.

I did get some pushback for taking so many photos. People have accused me of not being in the moment and told me that it was weird that I wanted a picture of everything. What they didn’t seem to understand was that not only was I in the moment but I loved that moment so much I wanted to remember it forever.

My grandparents with my baby. I will always treasure this photo as it is the last one I have of them.

My memory is terrible. I review old photos and blogs and am astounded at all these moments I thought I would remember forever that I had forgotten. Images are more accessible than written stories and better designed to capture the beauty in the mundane events.

This summer I have spent a lot of time looking for photos that didn’t exist. I lived in Hawaii! Why are there not boxes and boxes of photos from that time? I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains! Where are my photos from that special time and that beautiful piece of the world? And why oh why oh why oh why are there not more photos of all those dear friends I’ve met along the way? I can’t rely on my memory to keep those treasures fresh. I can hardly remember yesterday.

How many boys can a Swurfer hold? My middle son is at the bottom of this pile. These friends are moving away and we will miss them terribly, but this photo perfectly captures life with them. It will help us remember.

This year I’m recommitting myself to take more photos. Take all the photos. Group shots. Candids. Especially of the people. As my grandparents have aged and started to pare down their possessions, they’ve tossed the landscapes and treasured the photos of people. I know my priority will also be photos of people. So I’m willing to be accused of not living in the moment because I’m living behind my camera. (I know that isn’t true anyway.) I’m willing to be a little awkward as I learn the ins and outs of selfies. Definitely I’m going to have to coerce a few people along the way. Demanding a photo before people scatter falls outside my comfort zone, however I’m willing to accept a little discomfort. I’m prepared to accept images that aren’t perfect. And I’m even prepared to accept unflattering images of myself.

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