Today is Memorial Day in the USA. It’s a day we set aside as a national holiday in memory of U.S. military service members who died while in service. Unlike Veteran’s Day – which is designed to honor veterans, living or dead, Memorial day is all about those who have gone on.
Today I remember two friends from high school – Lanny and Chip. And on days like this, I also remember the importance of photography. You see, the tragic thing is, not only are they gone, I can’t remember what Lanny or Chip look like. It was so long ago. We were literally just boys. And more tragic, I never made a portrait of either of them. I have no pictures of my two pals from school. I was just getting serious about photography back then but I really screwed up badly. I never made one single image of either of them. I was too busy photographing cars or if I were extremely lucky, pretty girls. (They both envied the pretty girls part.)
But Lanny and Chip were like family and I sometimes actually cry at the thought that I never made their photograph. I kick myself just about every day over this. It really bugs me. But like all bad things, there is some good that can come from it. I can learn from that mistake and so can you.
I am sharing this extremely personal failure with you for only one reason. I want you to know that what we do as photographers, even those who are just hobbyists, is very important. Our photographs document the world around us. Even the casual photos count. Every person who touches our lives will pass. The photographs help us to remember them. The photographs are more than something pretty to look at. They are a piece of history.
On this Memorial Day I grieve for my pals. But I also grieve for the lost opportunity to make a memory of them with my camera. Sure I can and will some day find a photo of them. There’s one in an old year book I can look up. But it’s not the same. I should have been the one to make their portraits and I didn’t. These days I don’t make that horrible mistake. I try to photograph as many people as I can – and as much of the world around me as I can. My time is coming and when it does, I want to leave behind MY memories – the memories I made with my camera. You see, not only are the photos we make important for others, but for ourselves. We leave behind a bit of ourselves in each picture.
If this story has resonated with you at all today, please take a moment to pick up your camera. Find someone who is important to you. Take a few minutes to find some sweet light. Find a clean background. Start a conversation with your subject. Get them talking about someone from their past. And start making portraits. You never know how precious they may become.
In honor and loving memory of my friends Lanny and Chip.