Monday, January 9, 2017

All the Excuses

The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve, my grandfather died.  He would have turned 96 in January, and while he lived a beautiful and long life, death simply sucks.  There are no pretty words.

When I started on my photography journey in 2011, I took my camera everywhere - sometimes I still do.  I would go and visit my family each Christmas with the added hope of getting a good portrait of my grandparents.  They lived 1,000 miles away, so I really only got to see them once a year.  My grandma died in 2013, and it seemed every December, I had high hopes of taking that perfect picture of the two of them, and it just never happened.  Every year, I hated the technical aspects of the pictures I attempted.  I took them because I didn't know if I would have another year, but I beat myself up over every little mistake I made.  I always found something wrong.  There was something in the background, something a little blurry, too dark, too light, too grainy.  Something was always wrong.

But as anyone will tell you, after death, every picture counts.  The blurry ones, the cluttered ones, the dark ones, the grainy ones - they are no less imperfect, but they all count.  Because there are no more to be had.  All the excuses of wanting to wait until my grandma was out of the hospital or my grandpa was able to get around better didn't matter.  The excuses didn't exist any more because life was forever changed.

I recently had this conversation in a documentary group and I said this is why documentary photography speaks so much to my heart.  For those of us who have decided to go the path of documentary, it is because we have somehow glimpsed the other side and we are desperately trying to hold on before today is forever changed.  Maybe it is something as heavy as death, but maybe it is something as simple as having a break in age in our children.  All we know is that we missed it.  The first time around, there was something we so wanted to hold on to, and we can't anymore.  So now we take the pictures to help us hold on.  That's what documentary photography does.  It looks past the clutter, past the blur, past the shadows, past it all - and straight to the heart.  It doesn't pose because it doesn't care.  It looks to the engagement and emotion and the people and meaning of where they are and what they are doing and it holds tightly to it all.  And when you are ready for it, it means you have finally let go of the excuses we all had.  You no longer worry about the extra ten pounds, having the perfect outfits, having the perfect attitudes, wanting a beautiful outdoor location, or even making sure your house is bigger or brighter or cleaner.  All of those excuses are gone and you desperately want to hold on to today, every single detail, just the way it is, imperfections and all, before it's gone.

This may be the first time you will hear me say this: I wish I had taken more photos.  In thinking back on the pictures of my grandparents home, I wish I had it all.  I wish I had either taken or paid a documentary photographer to take pictures in their home.  It was my summer vacation spot for most of my growing up years.  I wish I had pictures of us lounging in the living room, of my grandpa showing family movies, of my grandparents simply having their morning breakfast at the counter - with their pile of mail in the corner, or even the untouched living room with their wedding pictures on the table.  All of those things changed the moment they needed more care, even though the home remained, it wasn't the same, and I missed it.

I beg you.  Take the shot or find someone to do it for you  Whatever excuses you might have for not doing it, just push those aside.  Turn on the lights, open the blinds, push your pile in the closet (or just leave it be), and get the shots you may never be able to have again.


Until next time, 

1 comment:

  1. I love the ones of Emma feeding the ginger bread house to Grandpa.