Last weekend our family celebrated the 80th birthday of my father. When I visit with my dad in person, I see him, but I also hear him and enjoy his person, or his spirit. In my visits with him I invariably come away feeling that he is the same Dad that I have known all of my life, though I know that he is aging.
This is the great difference between seeing a picture of a loved one and actually visiting with them. When I look at a photo I took of Dad at his birthday, in many obvious ways, he is showing his age; he has more lines on his face and his hair is now a bit thinner and a lot whiter than it used to be. The photo shows his age. The particular pose I caught him in shows a small hint of his personality. But the photo of him at age 80 alone shows little of who he really is.
When I compare the recent portrait of him with one taken of him 55 years ago at the age of 25, I can start to get a sense of the history of the man. Together, the photos leave the viewer wanting to fill in some of the missing 55 years between these two portraits and the weave of the tapestry of history is perceived a little.
I am truly grateful that my Dad is still alive and kicking; still witty, active and sharp. I am grateful that he has not been stolen from me by any hint of dementia. I am grateful that I can have opportunities like his birthday and other visits where I can take a couple of photos to add to my private store of memories. I know that far too soon, whether it is 5 or 25 years, we will eventually be separated by death. I realize that at that time, all I will have of him will be these photos and my own memories. I try not to dwell on that day. Instead, I am thankful that I am given opportunities to preserve bits and pieces of my memory of Dad while I enjoy his company.
As photographers we can get far too caught up in the technical aspect and forget one of the great values of photography. Far too often we do not treasure the gift of our family photo albums until something tragic has happened. We need to take the time to realize the future value of these photos so that when the time comes, and the photos are all that remains, our memories will be rich. Live in the moment.
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