It’s been a long time since I’ve had the urge to write anything. It’s been nearly as long if not longer since I’ve wanted to take pictures. Over the past half-year I have pretty much self destructed, and let me tell you it’s a very time-consuming problem. In the past six months my marriage of 16 years has fallen apart. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to say I have come to the realization that it was mostly my fault. Time alone allows for a lot of reflection, and that in turn can get ones mind travelling in many directions, sometimes all at once. One of these many directions has led me back to photography, but not in the usual sence. Instead of grabbing my camera and clicking my depression away I found myself immersed in snapshots. I could sit hunched over on the floor for hours just rummaging through photos. Most are either horribly composed, poorly exposed, out of focus, or some combination of the three. The worse they were the more I seemed to cherish them. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but truth be told the generally agreed upon rules of photography didn’t cross my mind even once. All that mattered was the content, especially people.
I have three boys who are all still very young, the oldest only eight. Looking at pictures of them was almost unbearable at first. I couldn’t get through a dozen without crying my eyes out. This has subsided a bit, but I still get nailed at some point. It has always fascinated me how a simple snapshot can draw out so much emotion, but this endeavour has really put in into to perspective for me. Take pictures of people, because one day they might not be there. If you love someone take their picture. If you have kids take thousands of pictures of them, because one day you will be glad you did regardless of your situation. Pictures are the closest thing we have to teleportation. One picture can take you back to the point you can almost smell the candles burning on the birthday cake.
There is one catch however. Not all pictures are the same. I found I could view images on my computer or phone for a long time and would rarely get an emotional response. Give me a stack of prints and it’s a different story. I am a slobbering mess in no time. There is just something inherently more emotion evoking about holding a print. I think the simple process of touching the paper makes all the difference. Hold on to a memory, literally. The older the photo, the closer to your heart the people in it, the harder you squeeze it, the less you want to put it down. The rules of photography 101 no longer matter at all.
This “awakening” has also made me realize how much I miss my Father who passed nearly seven years ago. I realized it not because he was in so many of the photos I looked at, but because he wasn’t. There were huge gaps in years, decades even, between images of my Dad. I want to see images of my Father and I together, laughing, having fun, doing father/son things. I need this to try to help answer many mixed feelings I still carry. It seems the years I want the most are the ones that are missing. I would give anything to have stacks and stacks of images from that time period. Anyone who still thinks image quality trumps content hasn’t lost enough. I am in no way saying that I want all my photographic memories to be low quality, just that it doesn’t matter as much as I once thought. So take solace in knowing that your photography, especially prints of it, regardless of how good you are, will one day give tremendous joy to someone. It may be one person, it may be many, you may not even know them, nor they you. Make no mistake, someone one day will be willing to risk life and limb to save those photos. They can be all a person has left.
So what has all this taught me? I keep asking myself that. If I had to give advice to someone I would tell them to not only take a lot of photos, not only print a lot of photos, but be sure to pull them out with great frequency and enjoy them. This can be a daily, weekly, monthly reminder to yourself that happiness is almost always where you already are, and the people you are with. Photos remember what daily life can so easily make us forget. They can be the guard rails that prevent us from falling off the tracks. They can be what time forgot. There is almost nothing more romantic that the thought of finding an old dusty shoebox full of the memories you would give anything to re-live.
As I come to the end of this I can’t ignore the irony of it all. This is my first blog post without any accompanying photographs. Hopefully my last as well. Both the way I view photography, and the way I do photography have changed. I will take it both far less serious and far more seriously at the same time. This time I will know whats most important though. Capture emotion above all else. Images that capture an essence, a soul if you will, will be most valuable. Photograph people doing the things you want to remember them doing. Yes, the huge professionally posed family shot is nice, but 40 yrs from now it will be the candids that have you on the floor, hunched over for hours. They will tell the real story, or at the very least the story you are after. They will be the ones that become sacred. Not once will you wonder what camera brand was used, care about colour calibration, or fret over corner sharpness. You will be home.