“We take photographs as a return ticket to a moment otherwise gone”
I’m a photographer.
I see differently. I feel differently.
I kick myself in the rear end almost daily for not using my gifts earlier in my life.
You see, I show people that they are beautiful. That they exist. And, in a photograph they will exist for all time.
So one day years from the day that I deliver the printed images, someone can spend an afternoon studying that image, trying to make their heart whole again, trying to recall a voice forever gone, to rediscover a missing touch, the image in a portrait will forever be staring back at them. A photograph. Tangible proof that they existed.
Her image is only a snapshot on my cell phone. A memory I want to treasure for all time. The rare moment of connection. She is my mom. The woman who picked me up from my first day of kindergarten in our red Volkswagen Beetle with a sunroof, a surprise waiting on the back seat–a kitten! She was the person who gathered our small family at the round kitchen table for meals. The one who took me to the doctor after my best friend, Mary Beth and I each came down with a fever at the movie theater while watching Mary Poppins. I watched my mom care for her step mother until her death. I watched my mother cry when she held my newborn infants. I watched my mother during my father’s grave side service. I watched her complete the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen.
My mother slips further away each day. A strong, beautiful woman is being replaced by the affects of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
One summer day we sat outdoors in the warm sunshine. It was a good day. There were a few moments where she worked out a memory from several of my prompts. It was a flicker. A cell phone selfie moment. I wanted so desperately to remember my mother. I should have been taking photos all along. I should have made her portrait. I should have made her portrait every year to show her how beautiful she was to the world. It’s truly selfish to admit that I wish I had those memories of my mother to recall her beauty, her joy, her smile, her love.
I have only cell phone images of my mother.
My mother who deserved to exist in photographs. Forever.
When the decision was made to sell her home, my childhood home, and I had the very adult job to clean out her memories, the first thing I searched for was my parent’s wedding album. I hadn’t seen it in decades. As a daughter, as a mother myself and as a photographer, I had to locate the album. Eventually I found it, wrapped it carefully and secured it in my carry on luggage. I carried it to my home as if it were gold, a precious gift. It would be years before I had the time and strength, and allowed myself the luxury of turning it’s pages.
One day recently, I sat down with the large, white album on my lap. Heavy with black & white prints. Substantial. Important.
Slowly I opened the cover and removed the yellowed velum page. I wanted to savor it’s contents like the perfect cup of coffee yet also anxious to flip the pages quickly in anticipation of seeing my parents again. My parents in love. My parents beginning their lives together, years ago, waiting for me on the album pages.
As I slowly devoured the pages, I fell in love the with photographer. How did he see such perfection? The black and white images, captured so beautifully, a wedding of two important people. My mother and my father. And looking on with pride, my grandparents, all of whom I would never have the opportunity to know. They exist. They exist in photographs in this album. I study the posing in each photograph. The details. My mother’s hands gentle on her father’s arm, her smile and kindness that I often see in my own daughter. I remember the stories of each one of her bridesmaids and their importance in her life. I smile at the candid images. I am moved at the loving glance between my grandmother and my father on his wedding day. I am in awe of the talented photographer, shooting black & white film on an August afternoon in 1955 that he had the remarkable ability to press the shutter at exactly the precise moment.
I will admit tears were streaming across my cheeks, caught on my sleeve before dampening the pages of the album, open and heavy on my lap. Each page told me a story of my beginning. This work of art, created over fifty years ago was a gift. A gift to the future. There was no way to have known when this album was created and purchased, that I would be studying each image so intimately so many years later, completely affected. Influenced by it’s existence. Humbled by the weight of history it contains.
As a portrait photographer, my regret is the portrait I didn’t take.
I sat with my mother recently as she tried to piece together a melody. There were many missing parts in her endless humming and the song quickly changed. I’ve read her story, I know her songs and can help fill in some of the parts. There was a pocket-sized moment where she said, “I think I might know you, I love you”.
My beautiful mother is just a photo on my iPhone.
How did I not see that I had to make her exist in photographs?
I should at least print these photographs. They will then become real, tangible.
It is life lessons like mine that I try to bring into each session with my portrait clients. I’m so honored to photograph them. They will exist in photographs. Maybe not only as a gift now, but maybe someday, someone will cherish that printed image, gently trace their familiar profile, wanting deep in heart and soul, to remember them for all time.