Whenever disaster strikes, and we see the victims and the piles of rubble, the remnants of now shattered lives, we are moved by that powerful imagery. Our hearts break for them, we remember them in our thoughts and prayers, write a check to the Red Cross, and utter thanks that we didn’t share that experience.
We take comfort that our lives and those of our loved ones were spared, and that we are still surrounded by our possessions.
But when I listen to the interviews of those affected, two very humbling sentiments emerge: they are thankful to have survived, but they regret the loss of the photographs that were so very dear to them.
Not the new iPad, or the stainless steel refrigerator, or the widescreen LCD TV.
How very humbling those words are to a photographer, to realize that the imagery that I create may become so important to the fabric of life for someone. More than just a picture, a photograph can become a piece of family history, something to be passed down from generation to generation. This is what we were like. This is how we looked. This is how we want to be remembered.
I have written before of the responsibility I feel towards creating the very best imagery that I can. Electronics are of value only so long (still using that Palm Pilot, are we?). Appliances are just that. But a photograph can live forever. It is timeless.
We as human beings change over time. The cycle of life imparts wisdom (hopefully) and laugh lines (definitely). I was editing a photograph of my dad. He is now 75, and I noticed the dark rings around his eyes. Then I looked in the mirror. Oops.
A photograph, if properly executed, can be more than a record of what we looked like at some point in time. It becomes a family treasure – priceless – not only for posterity but for ourselves as well. Yes, you really were that pretty. I never knew. No, you were “hot” (or whatever the colloquialism for beauty happens to be at that time). I can’t believe grandma’s eyes look so much like mine.
To this day, my daughter often pulls out the photo albums. Or gazes upon the pictures on the walls and in the photo frames. She is like many of us, wanting that connection to the past. This is where I came from. This is who I am.
Perhaps it is the things that are not easily replaced that we treasure the most. The love in our hearts. The memories in our thoughts. And for the physical things – what we can touch – perhaps it is those photographs.