Repost: Why I'm a Photographer
Originally posted on the old blog December 15, 2010
I rarely write posts of a personal nature. I figure most people get enough of my quirky personality with every post and, well, with my "About" page. I guess I also think you come here to look at photos, not to read my ramblings. If, however, you are looking for ramblings then today's your lucky day. If you aren't bear with me because this post is, eventually, about photos. And there just might be one at the end of this post.
Two weekends ago, I hopped on a plane to visit my grandparents in southern Illinois. I hadn't seen them in 5 years and they had yet to meet my husband. We were married in April and, due to health constraints, were unable to attend the celebration. After getting up at 4:30am, catching a connecting flight in Chicago, we arrived in St. Louis where we rented a car and drove 30 minutes to my grandparents' house. When we arrived I saw my grandmother sitting in the living room, watching out the window, waiting for our arrival. We greeted. They met my husband. I cried.
We sat in their living room eating coffee cake and drinking coffee. Not much had changed in their house. The stool I used to sit on to play nintendo was still in the corner. My favorite green velvet chair was more faded than I remember but it was there. My grandparents were the same: warm and funny. But thinner and older. One of my favorite sayings is, "Everything has changed but nothing has changed." There in my grandparents' house the elapse of time came into sharp relief for me.
Now here's a confession that only people who have visited my home know: I'm a photographer who has no photos displayed in her home. My personal photos are tucked away in a box in a storage unit. Also? I haven't printed one photo from our wedding. I urge--tell my clients to get their photos printed because having photos on disc? So cold and impersonal! I've visited client homes where there isn't a single wedding photo up and I've actually admonished them. I'm like the cobbler who has no shoes for her children. But my grandparents' house? Yep, it's full of photographs. Photo collages line the walls. Frames are proudly displayed on hutches, corner shelves, and end tables. The house is littered with photos. And, you guys? It's amazing. And heart warming. And it feels like a home. Most of the photos haven't changed in years. Old photos don't come down, newer ones are simply added. At one point my aunt, who is the purveyor of photos in our family, busted our several albums. In these albums were photos I had never seen. There were childhood photos of my dad and aunt (I was super excited to see they were dressed just like the Draper kids), my grandmother looked regal and wore waisted plaid dresses (I really wish those were still lying around the house somewhere), and my grandfather looked dapper with his hats and coats (pretty sure he was also wearing a Carnegie Tech shirt that he's had to have owned for over 40 years). There were photos from their travels to Europe and China, photos from when my parents were newlyweds, and photos from my childhood. With each page I'd say, "Oh, wow, look at..." or, "I remember when..." Not only was it a trip down memory lane but it was an introduction to my family for my husband.
That night we said our goodbyes. My Grandmother said it would probably be the last time she saw me. I cried. As I sat in the hotel room feeling melancholy and drinking wine (that my husband bought at Wal-Mart) I thought about the afternoon spent looking at photos and recalling family memories. And I realized it was a perfect reminder of why I'm a photographer--why I'm driven to document space, time, and people. There in a small living room, after 5 years and many changes, my family found common ground. Photographs of the past instantly connected us to the future, creating new memories. I remembered that's what it's about. It's not about the number of bookings every year. It's not about contracting the most attractive clients, the best styled weddings, or photographing at the most exclusive venues. And it's certainly not about conventions, print competitions, rebrandings, workshops, studio openings, concept shoots or the myriad of other things that abound this industry. Sure. I've gotten caught up in all of it. It's easy to do so. It's how we all make a living and, sadly, it's part of the reason I hadn't seen my family in 5 years. But that afternoon was a strong, necessary reminder to me that every time I lift my camera, I'm capturing and delivering much more than an image. I'm providing a memory and an opportunity for generations of families to connect over photos and tell powerful stories. That's the root of my job and it's why I'm a photographer. I just really, really needed that reminder.
And because I promised a photo...
Update: A photograph I took of my grandmother when I saw her at my sister's last high school band concert on May 12.