Friday, June 29, 2012

Mom’s Last Days

As most know, I hang out on several photographic forums. I look at hundreds of photographs every week. I see many lackluster photographs, quite a few very good photographs but very, very few that are truly exceptional—or as I prefer to think, that are really important photographs. When I do find one I like to let the photographer know that I feel the photograph is important. This is not based on photo technique (read my PhotoNet bio for explanation) but on content—what is really worthwhile. It has been a long time since I have asked another photographer to let me post their photograph on my blog but I thought this photograph was important enough to make the effort.  

Maybe I am more sensitive to this genre of photography because of my experiences with Janet but I came across this photograph on Photonet and I keep going back to view and study it. The subject is the photographer’s, Kathy B’s, mother. The title of the photograph is Mom’sLast Days. 

Some time ago I posted a link to Andreas Manessinger’s blog where he was engaging in a serious discussion of emotional photography. Andreas mentioned that he did not do this type of photography because he had reservations about intruding into the life of the subject yet he expressed an element of respect toward both photographers that did as well as the photography produced. That is a viable approach. It is difficult to do. It is difficult to view. I am certain his feelings are shared by most photographers.

I know that I debated for a long time before I posted photographs of Janet that showed the darker side of her last days. I do not, even now, know if sharing them was the right thing to do or not. I question why I did. I think it was partly just my nature. I probably share things about myself, about Janet and I that would probably be best not shared but I seem to tell everything.  Kathy also mentioned that she had reservations about posting this photograph. I think in my case it helped me deal with Janet’s situation. I hope it does the same for Kathy.

Kathy has used a slightly different approach than I generally used with Janet. My photographs center more on Janet rather than on Janet in an environment. There were two times that I did use environment—when we ate out because eating out was one of the few perks that Janet could seem to enjoy and I wanted to show her in an environment where she was happier than usual. Also toward the end I did use environment when she was in the hospital because I felt that was important. But at home I seldom did much other than close up head or head and shoulders shoots.

I love looking at the small details in Kathy’s photograph. They say so much about the life of this lady—the animals on the dresser, the small framed photos on the chest of drawers, the pillows with fancy shams, and of course the potty chair, TV table, and the straw in the glass speak about her condition and the wonderful four legged companion. What I love about this photograph is the lady herself. I was awed by Janet’s ability not to succumb to depression or anger at her condition. I am sure that influences what I see here but you can tell that this lady has not had a privileged life, she has been in poor physical health for probably some time yet her gaze directly into the camera shows no self pity. It is a gaze of directness, openness that I think you only can find in the elderly.  She actually seems to be slightly smiling. I think this is a truly wonderful moment, she is seeing her daughter as wanting to memorialize her in spite of her infirm condition. Remember, every photograph is a statement about not only the subject matter but a statement about the photographer as well. Both are well presented in this photograph. It is two people showing a respect and love for each other and sharing it with the viewer. There is simply such dignity between the photographer and the subject. 

In spite of the hundreds of photographs of Janet I am not really a person that does family photography. That is unfortunate because there is nothing you can do for another human being more loving than to memorialize them for future generations.  To say to them that they are important, worthy of memorializing. It is a gift that I feel I have much too often failed to give.

The photograph already had several comments, all positive. This is the critique that I left on Kathy’s photograph:

“I am pleased to see that this photograph has been recognized for its importance. We are so encouraged to approach photography as simply a technical exercise that we very often fail to grasp the true importance of what photography is, or what it can be. Everyone that views this photograph and has had their humanity touched has been blessed. This photograph is very special because it is done from the heart and therefore it touches the heart. You will look at hundreds, maybe even thousands, of photographs on Photonet before you will find another one that matches this photograph in beauty or poignancy. Thank you for sharing.”

I want to thank Kathy for her permission to repost her photograph. You can see more of her photography here.

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