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Monday, May 7, 2012

At the Heart of it All

I've seen so many interesting things in my short span of being a photographer.  Short is a relative term, but it feels incredibly short when you watch the days fly by.  From time to time a 24 hour time period feels like the blink of an eye.

Being in the line of work that I am, I get this magnificent bird's eye view into people's lives.  I come in like a flash (sometimes with a flash), as requested by one of my clients.  I get to hear their stories and see a snippet of their life, whether good or bad.  Then I leave.  I take my memories with me, and my subjects move on with their lives, hopefully remembering that nice person who stopped by to photograph them that one day.

Not to get psychological on you, but I every time I wrap up a photo shoot I leave the situation with a plethora of different thoughts and emotions related to the events that occurred.  The toughest of these are the ones which pull at the heart strings.

It has been approximately five years since this shoot, but one that I will never forget. I had an opportunity to photograph a woman and her husband in a portrait together for AARP. The photos were to pair an article about the husband's health and the couple's finances.  The short of the story is that the gentleman was a veteran, who developed cancer and was not able to get enough financial help from the US government to cover hospital bills and other expenses.  I arrived at the house knowing that her husband was sick, but under the good impression that I would be able to photograph them both together.  I arrived to find something much different.  The very frail, thin, sick man was undoubtably just a few days away from his deathbed.  His wife was extremely sweet, and in the midst of one of the biggest events in her life, she kept herself collected while I was in the home.

Before we began the portrait, she let me know that it would only be herself being photographed.  Her husband was too sick to be a part of it, and I reassured her that would not be a problem.  She insisted that I meet him before we went any further.  I stepped into a somewhat small bedroom to find a hospital bed which held a small, elderly looking man wearing diapers with a hospice nurse standing over him.  She was administering some sort of I.V. or shot when I stepped in and walked to the opposite side of the bed.  The wife introduced me by name to her husband and explained that I would be photographing her for the article.  I am not sure if he understood or even heard her because there was no response.  No nod, no murmur, nothing.

I am easily distraught when it comes to seeing others in pain, but I was able to keep it together by riding on the strength of the wife.  We continued on, and I photographed her in 3 different places around her home, none of which were with or around her husband.  After we finished, she asked if I wanted to say goodbye to him, but I had to respectfully decline.  It was a hard situation to be in, and I didn't want to over step my boundaries any more than I already felt like I had.  I knew I was photographing for a good cause.  The article was for awareness, public knowledge, and to help raise money for the wife who was not only about to soon lose her husband, but also in danger of losing her home of more than 20 years.  I did not know them personally though, and thus felt as if I had already crossed the line by even being in the home at such a time in life.  I did not have to explain this to her because she already understood.  She shed a few tears when I hugged her goodbye, and I wished her the best.  I have not talked to her or heard an update on her situation since.

I did see the woman about a year ago.  She was attending a formal gala with other fellow business men and women.  I decided quickly the best plan of action was to not speak to her nor let her recognize me from across the room.  I'm sure the last thing she wanted to hear that evening was, "Remember me?  The girl who came to your house several years ago to photograph, right before your husband passed?"  What a way to bring down the party.

She had a gigantic smile on her face and looked much healthier than I had remembered.  Even though I did not speak to her, her smile gave me the confidence that she was holding her own.  And I still wish her the best.

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