A Life Lived Through Photography

Recently I inherited a very meaningful present from my mother: my father’s 1978 Minolta camera. One cannot imagine both my surprise and utter joy not only receiving such a gift, but also being the first person to handle the camera since my father last used it in the early ’90s.

My love for 35mm film has encompassed many facets of both my childhood and young adult life. From disposable cameras to my Kodak Advantix Point and Shoot camera (that I received on my 7th birthday) to my Diana F+ Lomography camera and, finally, to attempting to build my own dark room in my old house…my photography has captured an aspect of my existence that I don’t believe an iPhone or digital camera ever could.

Documenting the chronology of my life, with all its ups and downs, has always been incredibly important to me. To say that my collaged Seward Trunk, one of my most prized possessions, is inundated with an absurd amount of photos and prints would be an understatement. Whether I was at Yellowstone National Park in my youth or documenting my years in college, I always made certain to keep their time alive by obtaining a physical copy of that memory. And I suppose, by now integrating both my photos and my father’s, that I’m constantly keeping a small part of him with me, as well.

As difficult as it is, I believe stepping out of one’s comfort zone is vital in experiencing all depths of human emotion, contact and experience. Photography gave me the means to, at first, hide behind the lens…to capture split-second faces. To keep those alive who had passed. To find details that I never noticed before. And, more importantly, to describe moments when words seemed to fail. And when I was finally ready, I stepped into the frame of my own photos. I started living the life that I wanted so badly to capture on film.

Though the noise of the photo isn’t as accurate as my DSLR, and manually focusing on my subject is an eternal struggle for me, there is something very candid about film. There is something extremely exciting about accomplishing a double exposure or a pinhole image. And the thrill of waiting for your photos to develop…nothing quite compares to it!

Not only has film defined a generation, but it has done things that not many of us realize have shaped our society: it has taken us straight onto the battlefield of war, it has brought awareness to issues all over the globe, and it has given us the opportunity to know our ancestors…to see the similarities between our faces and the faces of our great-great grandparents; to be at their wedding 50+ years before the mere idea of us was even conceived.

Photography has also given us the ability to see into the secret lives of strangers. A wonderful example of this is the work of Vivian Maier, chronicled in the 2013 award-winning documentary from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel. If ever there was an inspiration to get to know someone who was previously overlooked in your everyday life, it is this movie. And still to this day, I can’t look at Vivian’s work without tearing up.

The challenge I’m proposing to my readers is this: Try something new. Try to see something beautiful in something you once saw as ugly. Capture a moment that you can one day share with your children. Reach out to someone you’d never have reached out to before. And when you’re stuck…when you’re held back or tied fast to something much too heavy in life…put down the camera and give yourself permission to just live.

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