I’m a photographer and so it makes sense that I am passionate about photography and image making. It seems the older I get the more I appreciate photographs - not just any photograph but portraits of the people I love. Photographing people is more that just a passion -it’s a mission.
Tomorrow I will attending the funeral of my dear friend Terri's grandmother - Grandma Jennie. She lived a full life of 91 years. She was a mother to 5 children, a grandmother to 12, a great-grandmother to 29 and a great-great grandmother to 17. Incredible!!!
When my friend Terri spoke of her with such love and affection the first thing I think I said to her is “have you been photographed with her?” In my mind any age is a good age to have a portrait made but 91 incredible years young certainly deserves a portrait.
We all want pictures of when we are young and flawless (or at least we think we were flawless) but the truth is how many people that are important in your life right now even remember you when you were a teenager.
Our children can’t look back at pictures of us before they were born and connect with or relate to that person from way back then. Let’s face it our kids can’t relate to a world without internet so a portrait of you from 30 years ago doesn’t represent who you are to them today. And…. the truth is they are probably making fun of your BIG 80’s hair, parachute pants and the boom box sitting on your shoulder.
Before I moved from NY I had no idea what Senior portrait photography was. In Brooklyn (back in my day...) a photographer came to your high school, set up a studio in the basement next to the cafeteria, put a fake graduation gown on your shoulders and your picture was in the year book. Done.
Meanwhile all over the country high school senior photography was a huge market. Fun, big elaborate sessions marking the end of high school and celebrating the entry into real life.
High school senior photography is all about a bright future yet to be lived - youth, hope, dreams, a future family, career and life. Let’s celebrate the possibilities.
I loved photographing Spencer as she celebrated graduating from ASU. She has the most contagious smile and the sweetest spirit. I wonder what it would be like to photograph her again 50 years from now. What will her story be? What will the lines on her face say?
But what about the real seniors…. the ones often forgotten about and sometimes marginalized by younger generations?
What about photographing a life well lived? A life that may be winding down a bit - the hopes and promise of a long and prosperous future no longer in front of them but a full blown epic movie of a life well lived that is seen from the rear view mirror. Why are we so afraid of aging and celebrating the life we lived. Most people I know can’t stand the thought of aging - but really - there is no option - you are either living and aging or you are dead. Maybe we should stop seeing aging as a negative and start celebrating the benefits of hard earned aging.
At this point in life the people who love you most remember you perfectly aged with tiny lines that tell the story of your life - the laugh lines, the sun filled days that left pretty freckles on your nose and cheeks we now call age spots….. and what about the beautiful veiny hands that are attached to the fingers that held your hand and wore the rings you now hold so dear.
One of my favorite songs written by Phil Hanesroth performed by Brandi Carlile:
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I’ve been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don’t mean anything
When you’ve got no one to tell them to
I’m not going to lie - I have belted that song out on many runs along the streets of my neighborhood and I didn’t care what passerby's thought!
What about photographing the people who made our life and our children’s life possible….
We run from aging and everything associated with it. Why….? A life well lived filled with stories and history should be celebrated with beautiful portraits.
When you talk to a high school senior the conversation is all about what lies ahead. What school, what career path, what dreams and aspirations do you have….? It’s a beautiful time filled with great anticipation. Parents are so proud of the children they raised - smart - athletic - polite - funny- and all the things young life has to offer.
When you photograph a great-great grandmother she tells the story of her life. Jennie’s story is incredible - She had a fourth grade education - like many of her generation she had to leave school to work and help support her family (at the age of 8 or 9 years old) She loved and was always faithful to her family. She was a strong independent woman until her final days. She was the matriarch of her family - the glue that held them together. She was the one you went to for solid advice because she had a lifetime of experience.
In her grand-daughter’s Terri’s words “ She made us laugh always telling funny stories, in short she made us all better people and made us all stronger.
I’m truly blessed to have had the chance to photograph Jennie with Terri and Bethany (her great grand daughter). What a gift for me that was!
As an industry I believe we need to photograph the winding down of life as well as the fresh start of young seniors and everything in between….. Let’s not forgot about the ones who came before us - that started our story - remember them the way you loved them most.
In Terri’s words, “Thank you dear friend for helping to capture what I would have lost if we had not taken your advice.”
These are two more examples of some of my favorite portraits I have created in my career.
Every time I see these images I am reminded of the power of photography and how it is often our last visual connection to someone we love.