As a portrait photographer, I help people tell their stories. I capture a moment, a memory, an image, a goal.
With families, that story is entirely about love. Often, it includes laughter and sometimes a bit of angst (“are we DONE yet?!?!”). It can be gooey or it can refined; silly or formal. Sometimes, it can even be a little sad. Whatever the mood, I do not have a role in the story … I am just there to help it unfold.
Until, once in a blue moon, there I am. Not in the middle of it, but noticeably on the periphery … if you’re looking.
What happens when a client’s story becomes so big that people begin to notice I’m a part of it? My role is tiny. A speck. Unimportant. But people ask how I got there. How it happened. Is that really me?
So. Here I am. Telling a story that is so minor compared to the larger narrative it’s a part of. And, like most things, it starts with something incredibly personal.
Someone very very dear to me has lung cancer.
Someone too young.
Someone low risk.
Someone who absolutely, positively should NOT have lung cancer.
She is amazing and inspiring and strong and open – and she makes me want to do more to find a cure.
So, a few years ago, in observance of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, I offered to give a percentage of my photo session fees to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation. It wasn’t a lot, but it was something. I booked a few clients, and did my thing.
One such family was a lovely couple with a young daughter. The husband, Paul, like my friend, had lung cancer. We met near their home, took photos of the family (including visiting brothers, sisters, cousins, etc.), and quit when the activity became too strenuous for Paul. It was a beautiful afternoon, bittersweet, with much laughter and immeasurable love.
I went on my way, sent the clients their photos, and that was that.
Or so I thought.
Some months later, I heard from Lucy that her husband had passed away, but that he had written a book, and would it be okay if they used one of the photos I had taken as the author photo. “Of course,” I said, “These photos are yours. I would be honored.”
I had no idea.
According to Amazon, When Breath Becomes Air is:
• #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST • NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY: • The New York Times Book Review • People • NPR • The Washington Post • Slate • Harper’s Bazaar • Esquire • Time Out New York • Publishers Weekly • BookPage
This memoir is exquisite.
The photo? The photo is important – not for Paul’s story, but for Lucy and their daughter.
The photographer? In term’s of Paul’s story, the photographer is no one. But people are actually noticing the photo credit. Funny that. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed a photo credit in my life. But my friends are seeing it, and they are asking.
And, so I say this. As I feel with all my clients, I felt lucky to have crossed paths with Paul & Lucy and their family. I just didn’t realize how lucky until I read Paul’s book, long after our time together.
What else can I say? Life is short. Write a love story.
Buy When Breath Becomes Air on Amazon.
Read my friend Lisa’s blog, Every Breath I Take, a blog about my journey with lung cancer
Donate to the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation