(Story) of the Day: Moments, My Dad, and Me

An interesting thing happened the other day. I was on a forum where wedding photographers were talking about their favorite images from their own weddings. The vast majority of these were cute, quirky moments that captured the personality of beloved friends and families, not the amazing portraiture that we photographers tend to focus so much energy on. Now, I LOVE portraiture. I love bringing out the best in people, and I love showing people that yes, they CAN be photogenic. But my heart truly lies in the capture of moments. There are few greater compliments I can receive than one like these, from a recent couple: “This picture you took of my Mom laughing is the first picture I’ve ever seen that actually looks like her!”

Why is that? Part of it’s that I have a naturally quirky sense of humor, perhaps. Part of it is that I started out as a photojournalist. But the largest part, I think, is that I never for a second have to question the value of these types of photographs, because they are the ones that keep memories of my own father sharp and vibrant.

My sister just launched the Robert Brenizer Memorial, which is a brilliant way to use new technology to keep his memory alive. Dad would have loved it: I can’t count the times over the years that I have been thankful that he was a giant geek when it came to the latest and greatest gadgets. That meant that, although he died in 1987, we had not just countless hundreds of photos of him from the cameras he collected or encouraged my mother to buy, but hours and hours of VHS video of him from 1983 on, because he HAD to be the first one in town to get a VHS recorder, even though you literally had to carry the VCR around with you as you recorded on an incredibly cumbersome set-up.

Thanks, Dad.

I know I’m biased, but he truly was an extraordinary man, and is my constant role model for how to live a decent life. Consider this: In 3rd grade, I moved to a new school district after he, at age 46, had finished a military and business career and decided to be a high school physics teacher. When he heard that I was being picked on for being the new kid, he planned and got approval an assembly on the basics of physics that would make me look cool. Just think about that — not only did a guy who had been in a school district for a couple months get approval to launch his own school-wide assembly, his plan was to teach physics to 3rd-5th graders in ways that would make them think it was really exciting and cool, and it worked. He got his entire high school class to come in and act out different roles and skits, showing that they were also excited about physics, at least when it was in his hands.

He was brilliant. He was the kind of person who could read a series of books on home repair, and then help build a house from scratch. I can’t even pitch a proper tent. The angriest I ever saw him was the day of the Challenger explosion. I was home from school, and we were watching it together when it exploded. He had been nervous all morning because of the cold weather in Cape Canaveral, and as soon as the fact of the explosion sunk in he was yelling “It was TOO COLD! How could they do that?!?” Things that came to light only hours and days later — frozen o-rings, jargon the general public had never heard, were things that he guessed immediately. With years of experience as an Air Force instructor, he knew all about launch factors.

But the most shocking thing about that day, given how important it was, is how fuzzy my memory is of it. Was I home from school sick? I can’t remember. What were his exact words? I can’t remember. I remember the couch, and the TV, and how the importance of it all sunk in from his emotions, but after so many years I have nothing but vague impressions. Without photography and video, that’s all I’d be left with. And without photography that captured the way he acted, the way he moved through the world and cared for people, all I’d remember is what he looked like when he was looking at a camera, not who he was.

Thanks, sis, for the memorial site. It’s perfect.

Andrea Knapp - That was a lovely story! I too have old home videos of my parents that are just a joy to watch and my kids still watch them over and over again……

That fact totally has a huge impact on how I shoot today!

Josh Lamkin - Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

Emma in London - Beautiful memories, beautifully told. That story just made me shed a tear. My mum passed away when I was younger and I often wish we had more photos to treasure.

Kirsten - *crying* (good tears) Happy for you to have someone to look up to like this. Had I a dad, this is the kind I would have wanted! Specifically, the tech geek part, since I dabble in that for sure.

Daniel Stark - ryan, you are truly gifted and i can see where you get it from now. thanks for sharing this in such a beautiful way.

all the best,
daniel

Gemma Schipani - Cute baby photos! Well I think it’s safe to say your dad would have been very proud of you. And if and when you have children they will be blessed with the amazing memories you will capture for them.

tonya - Your Dad sounds like an awesome man! Love your tribute to him and the way you let us get to know him a little. Makes me want to call me Dad right now!

R - Great illustration of how important our work is as photographers. I don’t think a lot of people see it that way. Thank you Ryan, for sharing your story!

chavvon smith - made me a tear up Ryan…he’d be proud

Tabitha McCausland - Just an awesome story Ryan and I love geeks too :)

gabe aceves - awesome post here. cool of you to share.

Kyle - Your Dad sounds wonderful. And you seem a lot like him.

My fave pictures of my husband and I, admittedly, are portraits. But I feel like they’re portraits that truly capture us. I think a good photo, be it a portrait or a photojournalistic capture or a snapshot, is one that transmits the essence of the person in it rather than transmitting the essence of the person behind the camera — which is where I feel like the problem lies with portraits. So many photographers are hell bent on figuring out their own style and then molding their couples to fit that style when they’re shooting them. I think it should be the other way around.

Timothy E Kaldas - That was a really powerful post Ryan. It made me think of my dad. He also was endlessly committed to us and running around with the video camera after us. He passed away a few years back. I’m sure your dad’s proud of you.

Adore Amore - 1st…Huge fan of your work, love your personality and your Ryanisms (or Brenizerisms). Awesome for you to share your personal side..totally makes me appreciate the techie in my father.

Your father would be so proud of you…for sure.

Tim Kelly - Ryan- wow. Great article. Your dad would definitely be proud. Your skills are amazing. I always enjoy seeing your work. I wish that our family had more photos from when we were young. Definitely want to have that for my kids.

Ben Godkin - Great story Ryan. Thank you for sharing such an intimate part of your life story.

Kat Braman - what a beautiful tribute to your dad Ryan! truly a testament to why capturing real, authentic and messy life matters. Your dad sounds like an amazing man.

Shari DeAngelo - I had tears in my eyes reading what you wrote about your dad, Ryan. The way you think and the way you live your life is a beautiful testament to him. He’d be so proud, I know.

matt shumate - Sounds a lot like my own dad. Thanks for the reminder about how awesome he is. I think I take it for granted too much.

Rowan Sims - What a moving blog post. Nice to read something with so much depth! Thanks for sharing, Ryan.

Matt Collins - Bob was a pleasant contradiction, he was a scientist who also had a deep faith in God. He was serious and yet humorous. A patriot with a strong respect for others opinions. Your impressions of him were spot on. Bob was respected by his peers and we children. When he quietly spoke others listened. He must have been something special, look at legacy, his children!

Shyann - What a great post! :) I really loved it! Your mother and father were so beautiful in their wedding photos!

Robin Brenizer - Hi Ryan, I didn’t know you blogged about this. I literally just psychically went here and found it right away. So, I will post this beautiful memory and pics to the site tomorrow.

Thank you!!!

love, Robin

Alicia Kennison - Beautiful story.

I’m in Australia and my dad has lived here since he was 14 and now at age 70 he is about to retire to his homeland of Greece to live.

I don’t have many photos of my dad as he was a keen amature who stayed behind the camera, however my dad was a world champion hairdresser and still has clients who have been seeing him for about 40 years.

Even with all the highs that his career reached, it’s his everyday long term clients that make me realise how special my dad is. He has a guest book in the salon that he has been asking his regulars to sign so he can take it with him when he retires. I read the book a couple of weeks ago and it made me realise that his competition wins were nothing; it was the way that he made everyday women feel so good about themselves within the short time they were sitting in the hairdressers chair that made such a huge impact.

Your dad is in video and photos, my dad lives in a book of memories and written words. My earliest memories of my dad are of him working away in the salon. It’s only fitting that his clients fill in the blanks.

Anyway, your story prompted my long winded response. Thank you for sharing. You’re right… it’s all those little moments in between the amazing bits that really make the difference.

Rima - Fantastic post Ryan, Im sure your dad is proud you. I had a client last year where her mother had passed away just after her wedding. She called to thank me for capturing her mum in her essence, which she will treasure. It kinda puts everything in perspective and the importance at what we do.

Mark Q - This is great Ryan. Thanks.
Your Dad sounds like a great bloke…. the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

katy gray - beautiful story. thank you for sharing.

Lydia - Your parents are adorable, your dad was obviously an amazing person, and it really shows in you. I love the photos in the 2nd row–funny how we still look like ourselves 25 years later.

Robin Brenizer - I love this!

Noelle - What a wonderful story about your dad. Thank you for sharing ;)