Above is my Grandmother, Estelle. She passed away on February 5th, at the age of 94. I have been grieving this loss for a few months as we knew she was going to be dying soon. That didn’t make the loss any easier. I had a few months to come to accepting that the woman who helped raise me and was such a vital part of every holiday, birthday, event (big and small), would no longer be in attendance. The home where I secretly watched Dirty Dancing as a kid while eating peanuts and drinking way too many sodas, brought all of my children to after they were born and celebrated every holiday, would change forever. A very vital part of my being is gone and it hurts. I don’t say this for pity, but I say this from a place of love and understanding the importance of my job and my role in life, and the gift I’ve been given that I get to share, with you.
My Grandmother, Estelle, wasn’t a fan of having her picture taken, like many of us moms. This is a lifelong trait passed down by all women in my family. I say this in jest but truly its a shame. I had set up a generational portrait session last May, hoping to photograph my mom, Grandmom, myself, sister, sister-in-law and our daughters. The two older generations declined the invitation, and I am kicking myself in the butt for not making them come to the session. These would have been our last professional portraits taken of Grandmom and would have meant more than words can say, to all of us. All I have right now of us together is this image above of her holding me at age 2. This reminded me of an article I read a few years back entitled “The Mom who wasn’t there- the Ghost in Our Family Photos” which resonated with me so much. As a descendant of a “don’t take my picture” family, we lose moments of a full, well-lived life. When my time comes, will I be the ghost in that picture? I pray not. I value the presence of my loved ones in my pictures and this experience has changed my view forever. I will make the effort now to always take the photo op, ask for the camera to be turned on me, and schedule regular family portraits, so that when my time comes to leave this earth, I leave my children with the gift of physical memories of our life lived together and that they will get to cherish.
This brings me to my next point: PRINT YOUR PICTURES!! There’s something about a printed photograph that cannot be mimicked by a cell phone pic or a digital file. Holding an old portrait from the 1940’s is SO much more of an experience than scrolling through thousands of pics on your phone or a file folder on your computer. If you don’t agree, I challenge you to go through a box of old photos, and see how it feels. The physical touch of a life that is no longer present brings a list of emotions that can range in variety and intensity. At Grandmom’s funeral, we were passing around old photographs of her, some really funny and some just dear to our hearts. As we were looking, and laughing and talking about the images and their place in time, it made me realize as clear as day, that THIS is WHY I do what I do and I love it so much. I get to partake in families greatest joys and biggest moments while documenting it and bringing beauty to the occasion and leaving them with portraits to cherish forever and to pass down to their children and grandchildren. I’m documenting a point in time, that when the days have long since passed, their family will get to cherish forever and always have tangible moments from them. A photographer does so much more than snap a picture. We tell a visual story, and give you something to hold on to. But a HUGE part of that is actually printing your pictures which is becoming such a lost art these days. I can tell you that if we had to go through thousands of old iPhone photos of Grandmom from 80+ years ago, this would be a different story. Technology changes, file storage changes, but the prints will last.
Take the pictures, professional or not. Capture your lives, share them with your children. I can tell you from experience, I don’t know if Grandmom lost all her baby weight, had her hair cut recently, was wearing a nice outfit, or any other silly reasons us moms come up with to not be in the picture. What I do know is that when I look at her face in these images, I see a woman who loved her family, who adored her grandchildren, who could make me laugh a true belly laugh and who always made me feel welcome. I remember a little girl playing Go-Fish at her kitchen table, I can smell her beautiful garden and feel the sunlight on my face while sitting in it. I can almost guarantee that these will be the things my children remember and love when they look at old photos of me, and I bet the same will be for you too.