There's an important lesson that photographers learn somewhere along their camera-carrying career: Photos last a long time.
I recently learned this lesson after the passing of my great-grandmother, Grandma Dot (short for Dorothy). Over the course of her childrens' and grandchildrens' lives she kept photos and compiled them into albums for each child — myself included.
In my case, the eldest of the photos in that album have lasted 25 years and they're sure to last many years more. So, the thought I had while looking through my album of me was, "I wonder how long the photos I take for others will last throughout the generations?"
I've taken thousands of photos of families and couples at special events, weddings and scheduled appointments just in the past few years, however, there has been one particular photo session that has profoundly affected the way I shoot photography.
Let's rewind back to 2010.
I was still in college, just learning how to use a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. I had an old Rebel T1i with a couple of lenses and I had spent the summer of that year learning how to use it before my college classes started up again.
Between 2010 and 2012 I met a young woman named Chelsea Bess. She and I attended classes for the GRDE (Graphic Design) program at Ferris State University and, while we weren't the closest of friends, we did share a lot of common interests (including photography) and after college we stayed in touch through social media.
Looking forward a couple years into the future, this adventure through time brings us to the year 2014. After college, Chelsea and her boyfriend Lucas moved to Indiana to start a life together, and during that time they brought into the world their daughter, Aubrey. Shortly thereafter the couple decided it was time to get married and they chose me to be their photographer.
So, packing up my gear, I headed down to Indiana — which, by the way, isn't that far away; it took me a couple hours to get to the venue. This trip made going to the U.P feel like moving halfway across the country ...
Anyway, I digress.
The date of their wedding was Oct. 25, 2014. It was a slightly rainy day, but the beauty of the leaves outdoors and the excitement from everyone attending made the day really shine.
I love shooting weddings for friends.
The day went perfectly and the shots were enjoyed by everyone once I finished processing them. I love that I was able to preserve those memories for them.
Here's why that day was so important to me: it was the last time I'd ever get the chance to take a photo of Chelsea.
On Saturday, July 25, 2015, Chelsea passed away in a car accident.
Sadly, I didn't hear about Chelsea's death until September of that year when I traveled to Indiana once more to photograph her sister's wedding. I had spent about an hour with her family after arriving at the venue, watching Chelsea's father and her sister play with her daughter Aubrey as everyone prepared. I just assumed that Chelsea was somewhere else preparing for the ceremony; my assumptions were wrong.
When I asked Chelsea's mother where she was I was told about the accident.
At first, I couldn't believe it. For the first 30 seconds I was in disbelief and thought somehow this was a joke of some kind.
Reality set in quickly.
My friend had died.
It was a sad moment for me, but that particular day was a happy one altogether because I saw their family thrive despite the loss.
Throughout the day of Chelsea’s sister’s wedding I thought of the memories I was helping create for them through my photos, but another thought also came to mind: Aubrey.
This little girl, while she was loved and held by Chelsea for every moment she was alive, would never really know her mother in person.
That's why the day of Chelsea and Lucas' wedding is so important to me. Not only did I capture the memories and happiness of that day with my camera, but I also preserved a little piece of Chelsea for Aubrey to get to know later on in life.
I preserved in images Chelsea’s personality through expressions, her happiness when surrounded by family and her love for her daughter.
Aubrey can look at those photos and learn who mom was.
To me, that's amazing.