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The Importance of Family Photos

My photography professor once posed an interesting question to me; if a person’s house catches fire, what are the things people will risk life and limb to save?  Aside from the obvious answers of people and pets, the most coveted item to be saved from the blaze are photo albums.  Family photo albums are some of the most important objects to us, and yet we take them for granted.  (Continued)

We frequently don’t realize the importance of family pictures until it is too late.  Too often we find ourselves seeking out pictures of memories with a person after he or she is no longer around.  Naturally, we look to our photographs to help us remember the good times.  These photos are the ones that will put smiles on our faces and help us cope with the change of a person no longer being nearby.

As a kid, I was the typical brat who hated being forced to sit still for a family photo.  Whether it was professional or family-taken, I always lamented it.  I never wanted to be in them, and I had to be forced into not making a silly face and “being nice.”  It was not until I was 21 years old that I realized the mistakes I had made as a child.  When I tried to find a good family photo that included my father, I had nothing.  The best thing I found was an out of focus, crooked shot of all of us from the lobby of a fancy restaurant.  It was upsetting to say the least.  The best photograph we now have is not a group shot of our family, but a series of pictures my mom put together in a frame showing us all individually.  My family’s memory, held together by wood and glass…

Upon discovering the mortality of memory, I decided to make a series of photographs dedicated to my father.  He was not photographed enough, and could no longer be, so I sought out to do it myself, my own way.

I am not the only person with this problem; far from it.  I have seen first-hand people’s memories taken from them.  While in New Orleans on a volunteer trip, three years after Hurricane Katrina, I stumbled upon a family photo album washed aside near a sidewalk in the Lower 9th Ward.  People’s memories sitting right in front of me on the ground.  Not a person around to claim them.  Not a person around to enjoy them.  I had no idea what to do with the weight of the situation.  I turned the pages, through people’s memories, and I found myself helpless.  With most of the images washed away except for the Polaroids, I didn’t know what action to take other than to photograph them.  I documented the album on the ground and brought back the evidence to try and enlighten others on the plight of so many people.  To this day, I do not know the people in these pictures and I have no idea what has happened to them.  I am well aware of the potentially grim end they may have met, but I try to remain positive.  I hope somewhere there are new memories being made for them, so that the pain can be washed away just as the album was.

Why am I dwelling on all this negativity?  Why do I present to you such a personal and sobering message?  Because I want you to realize the importance of yourself.  You matter to somebody, no matter what you may think.  Just as the people around you mean the most to you.

As photographers, we easily get lost in such scrupulous things as cameras, lenses, sensors, film, sharpness, lighting, etc.  We can take the most amazing pictures of grandiose landscapes, strangers on the street, birds in flight, and insects in their miniature domains just to name a few.  But what meaning does it have when we forget to turn the camera on ourselves and the ones we care about the most?

Many people don’t understand why some one else would spend a large amount of money on cameras and lenses for the sole purpose of photographing their family.  I disagree.  If you want to spend thousands of dollars to get the latest technology that takes the sharpest pictures of your kids, do it.  If you want to use Fuji Instax and Polaroids to capture fun moments with your friends, go for it.  If you want to pay a professional to photograph you all wearing the same cheesy white sweaters in front of a muslin background, by all means.  It is worth the money, trust me.  Hell, go shoot an 8×10” chrome and get it drum scanned.  Whatever you want is the right answer, and do not let a single person tell you it is not.  Not me, not anybody.  Because as time moves on so mercilessly, it is the memories of loved ones we will cherish documenting the most.

2 Comments

  • Carolyn Says

    This really hit home for me, and it’s so very true. You never know what happens next, so photographs are such a great way to capture memories and people as they are. A little more than a year ago, in the summer of 2009, my cousin came up from Florida to visit with her two daughters, and so my sister invited all the rest of the cousins over for a summer BBQ. Just about everyone was there. Well, it was getting late and people were starting to think about leaving, when my sister said no – we need pictures. She insisted on getting all the cousins and spouses together for a group shot. Everyone grumbled, but we all got together as a group, and my Dad captured the image with my camera. Luckily, in focus. Just 3 weeks later, my cousin from Florida was diagnosed with Leukemia, and a few months later she lost her battle. It was the last time we saw her, and I have since stopped grumbling now when my sister wants to make sure we capture family pictures at every event. Without that photo of all us, the last one we had was from almost 12 years earlier. She’s right, when everyone is together, we should capture it. We should treasure it.

  • MKB Says

    Thank you for this. You 100% right!!

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