The power of a photograph

family photograph - Niki and Renee, the stinkerI was texting with my daughter the other day and we got to talking about some old family photographs I’d recently posted on FB — ones she’d never seen before.

I could tell she was affected by them and she happily said that it was like rediscovering her childhood.

Of course, being a photographer, and a wedding photographer in particular, this was my cue and my chance to wax philosophical.  And I was off and running:

“I guess that’s the reason I like photography and video so much. When I see that image on a piece of paper, I can remember that moment, I can remember what I felt like, I can remember feeling the sun on my skin, the rain on my face, or the tears in my eyes.  I can remember who I was with and the people in my life at that time.  I can remember who I was at that moment because as time goes by you change. It’s the only real time machine we’ve got and it can transport us back to some time and place instantaneously.”

Then there was silence… I guess I might have overdone it a bit.  🙂

But I do feel that way about photographs and photography.

If you’re like me, you have a huge stock of old family pictures (well, perhaps my stock is bigger than some since my father was also a photographer). In my big rubbermaid tub, there are lots of pictures of young grandparents, parents, aunts & uncles. I try to collect all the unwanted photographs from relatives to fill in more of the visual mosaic of my past and connect with these people, some of whom are no longer with us.

family photograph Mary and George

My grandparents passport pictures from 1927 — a just married couple. In those days, the wife was shown on the husband’s passport, something that definitely wouldn’t fly today!


It reminds me of that scene in “Field of Dreams” when Ray sees his ghostly father as a young man (if you click that link, I’m sorry about the ad that will precede it..). When you meet your grandparents as a young child, they are near the autumn of their lives.  Like in this hugely powerful movie scene, old photographs let you see them when “they have their whole lives in front of them and you’re not even a glint in their eyes”.

That’s the power of the time machine we call the camera.  It lets you connect with people and times long gone, and even with parts of yourself that you may have forgotten over the years.  It’s kind of like what music does for some people: I’ve heard them say that hearing a piece of music again can conjure up all sorts of memories and feelings from the time it was first (or last) heard.  Similarly, old photographs can ground you to your past and perhaps help you remember things – important things – that might have slipped into the recesses of your mind.

I think it’s a similar situation for brides and grooms.

In my very busy and successful five-year run as a wedding photographer in Saint Louis, I was always concerned about doing my best for each couple.  So much so that, each morning as I got ready to photograph a wedding, I’d typically say a little prayer and ask for guidance to be able to give the bride and groom images that would help them remember for many years the emotion, the love, and the commitment they shared on their wedding day.

Asking for guidance had become a staple of my wedding day routine.  Then, one day, I received this email from a bride on the first anniversary of her wedding:

“I knew when our pictures arrived you had captured the mood of the day perfectly.  However, as with everything else, time dims memories and feelings.  You know it was good but can’t quite pinpoint all the feelings and thoughts for each moment.  However, you captured each moment and each little detail of the day.  I look at our pictures now and remember all the feelings from each moment.  They are vivid again…..and I know as the years pass, when I look at the story of our day in pictures even though 50 years may have passed, it will be just as though it was yesterday.”

You can imagine my surprise and gratitude. I guess it’s good to ask for help when you need it. 🙂

wedding photograph Kim and JohnnyMemories and connections to people, whether family or friends, ground us and give us roots, give us a sense of who we are and where we came from, and show us what’s really important in life.  I hope some of the other friends I’ve photographed over the years feel the same way too.

And now it’s time to quit being philosophical and get down to business.  My daughter will be much relieved…



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