Sometimes, as photographers, we don’t appreciate the value of our own work. No, I’m not talking about dollar signs. This has nothing to do with prices. It has to do with the intangible value of a photograph — especially to the subject’s loved ones. Several years ago, I had a neighbor. She was still in her twenties and full of life — the type of person who liked everyone, and everyone liked her. We didn’t do a lot of things together but she was a Philadelphia Eagles and Phillies fan, and I was a Pittsburgh Steelers and Pirates supporter. She was loud. All the neighbors knew when the Eagles were on TV. We both loved dogs.
One day we decided to do a photo shoot — she wasn’t a client. She was just a friend and neighbor, and we killed some time and I got to test some new lights. I didn’t charge her — and she didn’t charge me. 🙂 We were just hanging out. I gave her a DVD with some images, but she didn’t show them to anyone. She told her mom, and she told her current boyfriend, but she never got around to showing the photos to anyone.
Several times, over the next couple of years, she suggested that we do it again — update the photos. Do some special photos for her boyfriend, for their anniversary. Maybe go out into the desert and shoot some more. Just friends. She wasn’t a client. Time went by. The boyfriend left and a new one showed up so the anniversary didn’t happen. We never did do that second shoot.
Suddenly, she got sick. She spent seven weeks in the hospital. The old boyfriend came back and sat by her bed. Her mom, her sister, and her niece were always by her side. Last week, she died. No one had seen the photos. I dug out the images from our sessions, and put about 20 on a thumb drive. I gave them to her mom, and stood in the back as her family gathered around the laptop and laughed, cried, joked as each new image appeared on the screen.
Today, I went to her memorial service. Some of my images were included in a slide show. One was in a frame beside the speaker’s podium. One was in the program. Three more had been enlarged into canvas gallery wraps and were displayed along with a table of memorabilia from her short 33 years.
Her boyfriend hugged me. Her mother, and sister cried in my arms. Her niece hugged and thanked me. They all told me how much my photos meant to them. Sometimes, as photographers, we don’t appreciate the value of our own work!
R.I.P. Jessica. You were beautiful, inside and out! We all loved you, in our own way.