Why I am a photographer: Part II

These are my three beautiful daughters: Grace, Lauren & Betty

These are my three beautiful daughters: Grace, Lauren & Betty

Sitting next to his beige, metal, adjustable hospital bed, I hold his cold boney hand in mine as I murmured the rosary to myself begging for mercy from the incredible suffering my father was enduring from pancreatic cancer. All of my sibling slept strewn throughout the living room where his bed had been for the past six weeks. My mother, running on almost no sleep for weeks, was finally sleeping in the bedroom down the hall.  As I clutched his cold hand listening to the strain his ravaged body had to make for every breath I remembered what the hospice worker had mentioned just days before, that he would probably die of a heart attack or stroke due to being so emaciated. This would be painful so if we were to see him gasp we should click the morphine button to ease the last pains before death.

As if it were a premonition, as I was begging for mercy for this man who was the embodiment of love for me, he gasped. But at this point his gasps were very weak, so much so that if you weren't paying attention it would easily go unnoticed.  I reached across his body and hit the red morphine button that lay next to his other hand.  Then I waited.  Checking the clock every few seconds, for three minutes, because he had stopped breathing many times before, sometimes for up to almost a minute or so. When the clock clicked three minutes I walked down the hall of my childhood home and woke my mother to tell her that dad's died.

There were no trumpets or bells (for an event so important it seems that there should be), but when I got back to the living room his body looked like a stranger to me. He was no longer there. Per one of my father's last requests of me, to make sure that he wasn't buried alive, I checked his pulse then woke my siblings.

This day, Thanksgiving Day 2009, changed my entire life. It was a hinging point.

Its effect on my work was unmistakable. Before my father's death photography was a medium of technical manipulation for its own sake. I was passionate about making technically remarkable (aka-"cool") images and now all of that was pointless.  This loss of meaning in my work left me almost unable to continue. In July 2010 I decided to hang it up and completely quit. I continued to fulfill my contractual obligations, but everything else ceased: all inquiries were referred out via an automatic email responder (I didn't even want to see them), no blog posts, no work whatsoever beyond what was dictated by my committed contractual obligations. 

This continued for the rest of the wedding season which ended in early November, almost one year following his death. After my last wedding of that season I didn't charge camera batteries, format cards or take my lighting gear out if the trunk of the car. I was done. I didn't touch any gear for a couple of months.

Then, after the holiday season and long after wedding season, going months without touching my gear, I had an urge to photograph my kids. So I dug out a 50mm, twisted it onto a body and this setup lived with me for a couple of weeks photographing my family. I made a beautiful discovery. I loved photography, but no longer the technical aspect which originally intrigued me, but particularly the way it focuses my intellect, my "seeing" of what is in front of me forcing me to see more of what is there. This focus (no pun intended) illuminates for me the meaning of things by making me ask why something is worth the effort of making a photograph. In short it helps me to not take things for granted. It started with being astonished with my children. Simply their existence. One day they didn't exist, the next they did and you could say the same for me and every person. I discovered and continue to discover that the things in front of me, my family, home, friends, sufferings, boredom, everything are gracious gifts being given just to me, particularly to me, including my father's death.

So what was I taking for granted? That things are given to me. The pinnacle of this is the beautiful fact that one person cares about another. That makes everything worthwhile, that one person loves another person.

So now, for me, the thing that I love the most is connection between people. My great love now is discovering and uncovering the connections that exist between people expressed infinitely various ways.

These are now the eyes I try to have when I look at my clients.