Something that deeply informs the way I shoot weddings is to always think about the kinds of photos that really matter to me. I know what kinds of photos I love to take as a photographer, and what sorts of photos I like to look at when the frames are filled with strangers, but it can be a very different thing when it’s me in the photo, or my friends and family. When I’m shooting the sorts of photos I like to look at as a photographer, I’m trying to be clever, to see angles other people might not see, to do things that I and other people haven’t done a thousand times before. But as a normal person with my own feelings and connections and history, the photos I hold most dear, the ones that I would cry and scream over if I ever lost, aren’t very tricky at all. And I know I’m not alone, since I’ve asked this of many other photographers — exactly the sorts of people who would be into deeply artistic shots — and I hear the same thing.
My Aunt Lita took one of my favorite photos of the past couple years as my mother surprised me with birthday cake after Thanksgiving dinner:
Not the most flattering angle of me, and I was unshaven, full of turkey, etc., and of course taken with a point-and-shoot. But I love everything about it, because of how real the moment was to me. I didn’t even know the photo was being taken, or care. My family is very musical, while I am sort of a Bizarro anti-musician who destroys every note I come near. But they love me, so when my cousin and uncle started banging out the last few songs of the Beatles “Abbey Road” on the piano, no one ran off screaming as I joined in. It was fantastic. I don’t get to see my family very much because I live away and work such grueling and strange hours, and here was a moment of intense connection and joy. And then, right after the last bars of “Hery Majesty,” my cousin Jay seamlessly transitioned into Happy Birthday.
And I started singing it. For my uncle Jim, whose birthday was later that week. Quite honestly, I’ve been so busy that I kept forgetting that my birthday was coming up. But when my mother brought out German chocolate cake (my late father’s favorite and thus, of course, my favorite too), I realized that it was all planned for me. And I was overwhelmed. And FLASH went the camera.
Thank you Mom, and my family. And thank you, Aunt Lita, for being there, for the memory, and for another reminder why I do what I do.