Saturday, May 5, 2012
It's almost 2 a.m. Caelan and I just got home from the Switchfoot concert in Springfield, MO and I know sleep isn't coming soon. We had a phenomenal night so I'm not sure if it's just the euphoria or if it has something to do with the Mocha Frappe I drank at 12:30 a.m. as we drove home. Whatever it is, when I saw this photo on Facebook, it gave me what I needed to finish this blog entry I've had sitting here for over a week.
Until recently, I would never have shared this photo. I won't even begin to dissect it and point out all the things that make me want to promise Caelan's friend Ryan that I'll keep him stocked with 7-Layer Taco Dip through college if he'll untag me, delete it, and promise me that I won't get periodic hush money requests.
But, I made a decision a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the memorial service for one of the kids in this photo. It was the third memorial I've been to for four of the teenagers our community has lost this year. Only three services for four teenagers because 2 of them were sisters. There were some common threads through these services. They were all painful. The crowds of people at each were beautiful evidence of incredible love and support of the people I share life with, both those I know and those I don't. There were a lot of tears shed. There was a slideshow of photos shared at each. And there was laughter during every one of the slideshows.
As the photos scrolled past, I did what I always do. I subconsciously scanned them and things stood out to me. Scattered clothes, books, flash reflections, the composition, or rather the lack of composition, all the things I've been trained to be conscious of. But I realized that what I always ended my focus with was the smiles; the unique personalities traits of each kid; the personal interactions with their siblings, friends, family. All of these technically imperfect photos are now priceless treasures that provide a permanent record of the things that truly matter. It struck me that I would have hit the trashcan button on a lot of them if they had been on my own camera or I would have used my famous flash-snob line, "The light isn't good," and I never would have taken them in the first place. I've read so many books and articles and blogs and Facebook comments about what a "good" photo should look like that I've lost perspective of what personal photography should be. I've chosen pride over memories. The most ridiculous part of this is I decided nearly 2 years ago that I no longer have the desire to one day be a professional photographer. So why am I still placing the value of opinions of my skill over the value of memories?
I don't normally take group photos. Too many things and personalities to try and coax into cooperating. Truth be known, I probably only took this photo of the kids because my friend Jen was there and told me to. This photo has bugged me since I downloaded it to my computer. I couldn't avoid the table and chairs and score keeping machine in the foreground at the bowling alley. The background had bad shadows and the two boys on the far right should be moved to the left, as should the lovable goofball in the center front, all things I could have avoided. I spent an hour cloning the background, which is still inconsistent in color. And then when I picked up the prints that I'd ordered for a grieving classmate of Caelan's I pointed out that they were too dark. He said, "Mom, she'll never notice that. Even if she did, she'll be glad to have something that reminds her of when things were good and normal. That's what she'll care about."
So when I have the time, I'll still strive to take photos like this (and then pick them apart for ways to improve) because this is what I love to do. But even if I thought it was perfect, this photo will never be meaningful or valuable to anyone.
When I don't have the time or the skill or the equipment or the right background, I'll take photos like this. Instead of neglecting to take a quick photo with my 2 little sisters because the littlest one has to get her brand new Dodge Challenger home before the hailstorm hits, I'll accept my grandma's 1980s Christmas colored couch and 1960s dark paneling behind us. And, because it is the first photo of us all together in probably 20 years, I'll love it because it is meaningful and valuable simply because it exists.
I'll also keep this one because it reminds me of a night of a phenomenal Switchfoot concert and how, afterwards, the band members came outside to sign autographs, take photos, and play more music. I'll remember that Chad Butler, never rushing, looked you in the eye, shook your hand, and asked your name. Then he signed an autograph and thanked you for coming. This photo is meaningful and valuable because I saw humility and appreciation and then got to talk a lot about the impact of those virtues on the way home with my kid because he also noticed them.