a picture's worth

I was inspired to write today in response to THIS blog post from a few days ago by photographer Jeanine Thurston.  (And a follow-up post of hers, here.) In her original post, Jeanine shares  a letter she received from a client, which was left on her doorstep. Here are the words of that letter:

Today I am writing for a couple of reasons.  I have some quiet time at the moment and need to get a couple of things off my mind.  I will leave this for my husband to deliver to you when he is ready.

You photographed my wedding, you photographed my first pregnancy and my first baby.  I contacted you awhile back to photograph my 2nd child and family.  After getting prices and realizing I would want all of the pictures as we love your work – I decided against spending $500+ – which is what I normally spend for portraits and prints with you..  Please know it is not because I don’t value your amazing eye, or how much we love the experience.

That week that I decided to NOT do a session with you, this is how I spent some money.

On Sunday I called and cancelled our session.  Monday I went out and got my hair cut ($39+tip), and colored ($65), Thursday I had my nails done ($24), my family went out to dinner at a somewhat expensive restaurant for no particular reason costing us $79 + tip.  This was just 4 days since canceling our session, already totaling over $200 for un necessary things.  My nails only lasted about 2 weeks, my hair is gone, and seven weeks passed when I got the phone call from our doctor.  It was not something I expected and the cancer has spread very quickly.  I will be leaving my husband, my 6 year old girl and my now 2 year old – not by choice.  It is very hard for me to talk about it which is why I need to write you.

I watch your Facebook page and your posts about the value of a photo and if I could give back all of those things that I purchased this few weeks after I cancelled my session with you, knowing what I know now, and have that session, well… I would do it in a heartbeat.

Now my time is done and there are no more chances for me.  The next time someone cancels a session – my wish is that you forward this letter to them.  Time is fragile, it is gone before you know you had it.  If you charged $200 for one print it wouldn’t be enough for what it is actually worth.  I cringe to think that my priorities were a manicure over a memory to pass onto my babies and husband.

My love and thanks for what you have given us from past photos.  I am so sorry that I did not see it as more than paper until now.

The original blog post of hers has been spreading through various social media outlets like wildfire. It's become controversial, with some people applauding her for sharing her message, and others (a scant few) condemning her for this "obvious marketing ploy."

In any case (and whatever your own views might be), seeing her words inspired me to write a few of my own...

I am a photographer. But more than that, I am a memory-keeper. Because time is cruel when it comes to remembering the details, but sometimes seeing an image can *spark* a memory that was just about extinguished. I have my own story to share. I originally posted this last year, but am inspired to post this again, since it is a BIG reason behind why I do what I do.

To remember...

That’s ME in the middle of the picture below. The one with bright maroon haircut in the shape of a bowl.  The one who hadn’t yet discovered the art of eyebrow waxing. The one who still suffered heavily from acne. I cringe when I look at myself in this image. But I wanted to share it, along with a few others, for a very important reason. Please read on…

These images were taken in March of 1999, during my trip with the Fullerton College Choir to China. It was a very interesting trip, complicated by the fact that I had gotten sick with bronchitis on the plane trip over there. And for 10 days, I lived off of NyQuil and DayQuil. But I DID it. I visited places I never thought I would see in my lifetime. I got a chance to perform a song, sung in a Chinese language (Mandarin), to the Chinese people. I even climbed the Great Wall, bronchitis and all. Because I could either embrace this opportunity for all it was worth, or give in, give up, and go back home. So I stayed, and gave it all I got.

And so, I have an album filled with grainy images from my trip to China. Bad haircut, bad skin and all. But these images are even more precious to me than you might think…

Please take just a second to notice the other person featured in all of these pictures I have posted here. This was my good friend, David Lam. Unfortunately, I have to say “was,” because about one month after returning back home from our trip, David was killed in a car accident. This happened 12 years ago, today… April 26, 1999. And as I get older, and my memories fade with each passing year, I look to these photos to help me remember him. Seeing these images triggers my memory to dig a little deeper, to draw to the surface what might have otherwise been lost. And suddenly I can see us both in the moments when the photos were actually taken… I can hear the sound of his voice, see the way he moved and facial expressions he wore… things that made up who he was. And I can remember.

My bad haircut is forgotten. It’s not important here; I don’t even notice it anymore. Instead, I will forever be grateful that I stopped for just one moment to have these photos taken. So, the next time you find yourself thinking, “I don’t want to have my picture taken because I don’t look good today,” or “I want to lose 10 pounds first,” or “I simply HATE having my picture taken,” please stop and think of this. It doesn’t matter if you don’t look perfect. This is your life, and you, or somebody you love, might want to look back on this very moment and remember it.

So, whether you get professional pictures taken by me, or you simply pick up your point-and-shoot or even your iPhone to capture your days, please do it. I can promise you that your bad hair day won’t even be an issue.

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One last thing to show you just how much pictures really matter… here is an image of Dave while we were in China. He had actually brought a framed picture of Catherine Zeta-Jones along with him so he would have something pretty to look at. I’m totally serious.  : )  And it still makes me smile.