As a kid, I never dreamed about being a photographer when I grew up. I never learned to develop my own film in a college class, with a professor that inspired me to create art. I wasn’t a mom that was driven to take beautiful photographs after my children were born. So how did I get here…..taking pictures as my job? It really all started with one image.
That is my grandfather, seeing my son for the one and only time, ever. My grandfather had helped raise me, making me breakfast and packing my lunch. He watched me while my parents worked, took me places, and taught me how to plant a garden. As I got older, my grandfather also suffered from dementia. He began to show unmistakable signs right as we moved to CA. One day he had fallen off of a ladder. I was the only one with him. He had gotten himself inside, and was sitting, hunched over, at his kitchen table. Even in the dim light, I could see that his skin was gray, and he was sweating. I stood frozen, eyes wide and anxious, asking what I could do. When he said softly, “I think you better call someone,” I knew things were bad. None of my stubborn Italian family went to the doctor without a fight. I did call someone. And he did go to the hospital. Our move to CA was already set, and my mom stopped at the hospital for me to say goodbye as we began our cross country drive. Leaving my dad….my family….my home….that was hard. Leaving my grandfather in the hospital room was worse. I turned to look back as I walked out the door. He sat in a chair, doing a breathing treatment. He looked very small. He looked like he needed me more than I needed him, for once. But I couldn’t stay. Kids don’t get a choice in some things.
I talked to him on the phone as often as I could, each time, his dementia making it more difficult. His head had the thoughts, but his mouth would not form the words. He was frustrated and ashamed. Interestingly enough, the profanity that resulted from that frustration came out just fine. He would struggle to speak, and then throw his hands in the air, in surrender….”afunculo!” Then the day came that it was no longer safe for him to stay in his home. He was moved to a facility. There were no phone calls then.
But after my son was born, I somehow managed a visit. My grandfather was brought to my aunt’s to have dinner with the family. He was drawn to my son. Smiling and waving at him, holding his hands and making silly faces. He made motions that he wanted to hold him. My aunts quietly cautioned against it, but I wasn’t worried. “You want to hold him? Absolutely!” He found a chair, and I handed my son to him. Matthew peered up at him. They held each other’s gaze for a very long time…..which, was very rare for Matthew, even then. I knelt in front of them and pulled out my camera. It was not digital….you didn’t get unlimited shots like we are accustomed to now. I took one photograph. One.
That tiny, fading image is one of my most prized possessions. It is the only one. The negatives were lost. I keep it safe, in a box, and, when I pulled it out to use for this blog post, I was frightened by its deterioration. I did the only thing I knew to protect it….I photographed it. As cheesy as it sounds, and believe me, it pains me to say these things…….photographs are powerful. They are moments frozen in time. If my house were to catch fire, after my family and ungrateful cats, the next thing I would grab would be photographs. I imagine that would be the case for most people.
Standing at the photo counter, 12 years ago, looking at that image of my son and my grandfather, knowing they would probably never see each other again, I was drawn right in. Taking pictures was important. My son suddenly became one very well documented child.
So that explains why photography, but not how it ended up as a business. I think I have talked enough for right now. I’ll cover the how next time. Ice cream for everyone that read the whole thing. 🙂