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.
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.