Thursday, February 22, 2024

We are not just photographers, we are historians

I am writing this blog at 4am, since I am not able to sleep. Yesterday I spent the first half of the day at a funeral. Not for someone who was elderly and had lived a good long life, but for an 18 year old who's life ended way too soon. I have photographed for this family for more than 10 years and it has really hit me hard. This is now the third kid that I have photographed who has past away, and all three of those happened in the most tragic ways. 

I am not writing this to depress all of you, I am writing this because, as I processed images for the funeral it reaffirmed how important these photos are. For the last 15 years I have told people that I don't just think of myself as a photographer, I see myself as a historian. This was just reinforced this week. 

When I heard about the passing of this brilliant young man, I waited a couple of days and then reached out to the family to see if I could help in any way. I know that these photos are important to the family and that it is my way to help. Being a photographer who has every image I have ever captured (on multiple QNAP NAS drives), I offered to go back and find the best photos from past events. Over the last 11 years I have photographed four bar/bat mitzvah, family portraits, a baby naming and more for them. 

Since I have the Canon Pro-4100 large format printer, I offered to print poster sized images for the service. I heard back from the family that they would love to have these. Then came the hard part. I poured through thousands of photos taken as far back as 2013, and it was really sad. I saw this smiling boy, full of energy, who is now no longer with us. 

I tell people that I have the best job in the world because 99% of the time I am capturing happy occasions, athletes competing at the Olympics, and taking people to exotic places around the world. But over the last couple of days I saw my job as a photographer in a less glamorous light.

This time I saw the fragility of life, but also saw the immense power of the photos. As sad as it is, it is also a way for us to remember this young man. Yes, I was hired by the family, but is still my gift to them. When I photograph events (no matter what they are), I pour my heart and soul into that. It is not just a job, it is a chance to create memories, to be creative, and to record history.

People often ask me why I always shoot my images to two memory cards at a time. The first time I was asked this, I responded by saying that in the most important moments, I want to make sure I have those photos. I was thinking of the Olympics when I said that. But then I thought "but just about everything I photograph is important to someone." When I capture a personal event, those images are very important to that family. Arguably more important to them than any Olympics I have ever taken. Even when I am messing around and taking photos of my granddaughter playing in the back yard, those are incredibly important to me.

I am not going to post images of the any of these kids, since I want to honor the privacy of those families, but I do want to share this photo with you.

This is a photo of my mother. It was taken 14 years ago, and it was the one of the last photos I captured of her before she unexpectedly passed away. It was way back then that I realized the importance of a photo, and the responsibility of a photographer. And it is for that reason that I take every photo job so seriously (but in a fun way). What we do is important! As photographers, we need to remember this every time we pick up our cameras.

At the service yesterday they said that the young man loved math and physics and he loved to talk about rainbows and why they occur. They ended the service by saying, whenever you see a rainbow, think of him.

Not more than an hour after the service, I was out for a walk and saw this. It is a simple iPhone shot, but the meaning is far greater than the overall quality of the photo. I definitely thought of him.


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Anonymous said...

Well written post. It says so much about your humanity and who you are as a person.

Anonymous said...

That was a nice article Jeff. It’s always tough when people pass but when they are young it really hits home. Photos are great source of memories and I know you will have selected perfect pictures.

Anonymous said...

What we do should not be just for money, but to give people memories that will last a life time.

Anonymous said...

So very true and well said, Jeff! I've also had the experience of photographing someone who unexpectantly passed within a few months. This side of heaven, photographs are so important and so precious to the loved ones left...I believe the photographs help us grieve and to heal.

Robert D. Silver said...

Thank you for sharing. I agree, we are historians capturing those moments families can reflect on through the images we create. Great photo of your mom. Every year I take photos of my mom when I visit for her birthday, realising that one day, I will not be able to do so. But I know I will have memories through pictures that will last a lifetime.