Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Memory, Loss and the Power of Photography

Memories are more valuable that gold.  At least to me.  As time passes I find them more and more precious.  Memory drives me to make photographs, a tool to capture fleeting moments and restore them to fullness in my mind later.  Photography has a special power.

This morning I read the following tweet by @timmoolmanphoto

Don't underestimate the value of what you do.“@jeremycowart: MUST read for photographers. http://fototails.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/a-letter-on-my-doorstep-portraits-are-more-than-paper/” @kikiphoto

For those of you who don't speak Twitter don't worry, I'll translate.  Tim Moolman identified a link to photographer Jeanine Thurston's blog Fototails Photography.

The post titled, "A letter on my door step. portraits are more than paper." is one of the most powerful messages about the simple power of pictures I have ever read. It talks about photography as it relates to normal, everyday life. Not the drama of war or famine or exotic locations. Just life in the way most of us will embrace it.

Take a moment and read it. She posted it yesterday and it already has over 500 comments.

It's short. It's sad. It's a potent reminder of what is important in life.


bobskoot said...


While I do not make my living by selling photos, I often look back upon the images I have taken and it sparks the remembrance of good times & good memories. Today, most photos are only found on hard drives or other electronic media so they are not shared as much as they were in the past when film was developed and prints were made. I've always regarded photographs as a "snapshot" in time, to be cherished.

Riding the Wet Coast

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: Sounds as if you and I are on the same page -- digital or otherwise.

Snapshots grow stronger with each passing day.

D. Brent Miller said...

That was a very powerful letter. It reinforces that we are more than photographers. We are documentarians.


bobskoot said...


I have found that daily snapshots of everyday life are more interesting than the posed, special event family portraits. I have developed a more documentary PJ style so I tend to take more photos than the average person. Digital makes it simpler and more cost effective. Back in the days of doing street photography I used to burn through more than 4 rolls x36ex of Tri-X per day walking the streets of East Side Vancouver, usually with an M6 and 28mm. Thank goodness for bulk film and reloadable cartridges.

One of the greatest documentarians was only recently discovered . . .



Riding the Wet Coast

Gary Wagner said...

Thanks for Posting Steve. I imagine that you have read the follow-up post that Jeannine Thurston put up on January 4. http://fototails.wordpress.com/2012/01/04/a-letter-on-my-door-step-the-follow-up/
I appreciate your photos and your writing and look forward to your posts every week

Poppawheelie said...

Yes, the importance of photographs. I have a close friend, older than me, who has traveled extensively. He keeps a lock box at a bank, and the only thing in it are second copies of his pictures. He still shoots film and has refused any photography training. His pictures are, from a photographer's standpoint, terrible, but to him they're everything memorable.
Like me, he frequently views and shares his old photographs, doesn't let them just sit in a box.
When I die, I hope I have a lingering illness, so I can look back all the way to those old black and white Brownie photographs in the drawer here.

Richard Machida said...

Thank you for posting that link. A wonderful, thought provoking letter.

Bryce said...

As I have written in the past; photos of you and your family are most important. And too making prints from same, now before the strips of film are lost or the digital files are erased.

The after effects of what I am assuming is treatment for cancer often does not tell the unwritten,
or in this case un-photographed story. Have many photos of my Mum, not so many of my Dad.

The letter speaks of despair and of scary thoughts of what she'll leave behind. Suspect her disease is terminal from how the letter ends.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Mr. Williams:

This was a very thought-provoking blog episode today. I'm not quite sure how I feel about either the letter Karen L. wrote, nor the response that Jeanine gave and got.

I'm sure that if the photographer knew her subject had cancer, she'd have taken the pictures for free. Art has value, but none higher than the works we give away.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

irondad said...

I never really appreciated this sentiment until the last few years. One day I realized I was actually getting older and time gone by will never come back.

In the past I would give Katie a hard time because she always insisted on taking snapshots of family at gatherings. Now I am humbly apologizing as we look back at the albums.

These kind of photos seem to symbolize roots. We often don't fully appreciate them while we're busy growing. Later can be "too late".

Hmmm, maybe a new calling is making itself known.

Jack Riepe said...

Never underestimate the things you do... Some middle manager at work will do that for you.

Riepe, from my phone.

Steve Williams said...

Brent: I agree with the idea of being a documentarian. That's exactly what I do.

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: A friend recently showed me the new book about Vivian Maier's work. It is astounding. I wonder how many other photographers are doing work like that in obscurity?

Besides you and me. *grin*

Steve Williams said...

Gary Wagner: I have been watching the comments and subsequent post by Thurston about the letter. It's all kind of surreal.

Thanks for the kind words about my posts. I appreciate it.

Steve Williams said...

poppawheelie: I read somewhere that people, when surveyed about what they would grab if their house was on fire, often said photo albums. I think those family photos have a lot of power, perhaps more than we realize.

Let's not rush into any sort of lingering demise though. You still have a lot of miles ahead!

Steve Williams said...

RichardM: Glad I can share some of these kind of things. It helps make life seem -- brighter-- or clearer to me.

Steve Williams said...

Bryce: I think the woman's letter was delivered after she died. It contains all those regrets that most of us hope we don't have. But time marches on and waits for no one. It makes me think about all the things I still want to do....

Steve Williams said...

Jack Riepe: I agree with the idea of giving art away. You reminded me that I have a print to mail. I am so bad, absolutely irresponsible, when it comes to taking things to the post office.

Steve Williams said...

irondad: Don't be the naysayer when it comes to making pictures. Those snapshots are like gold when you look at them years later.

You imagining a career change with a camera??