Today would have been my dad’s 68th birthday. I had a few ideas for things I wanted to write about today, but I am having some difficulty focusing on anything besides the fact that it has been nearly a year already since my dad passed away. Everyone is affected by grief in different ways, but I think, as artists and photographers, we often tend to analyze the impact the experience of losing a loved on has had on our work. I tend to look at the bigger picture, so to speak – not just how losing a parent has impacted the way I make photographs, but how my dad influenced me when he was alive in this world.
My dad was a U.S. Marine. He graduated second in his class at Parris Island, so he was skilled, driven, determined, and like all Marines, slightly psychotic in terms of perfectionism. I am not a Marine (huge shock, I know) but I have been told that I inherited his work ethic, which I have also been told I apply to my photography. I use the phrase “have been told” because my psychotic perfectionism and determination to give everything I do all of my innermost being does not seem out of the ordinary for me – it is just the way I am, and it was just the way my dad was, too. I think it is all he knew, and somehow passed this trait on to me.
I have definitely softened as a photographer as a result of losing my dad, if that makes sense. While I still love the laser precision of the Mamiya RZ67 and perfectly stored/processed film, something about expired film in a 35mm camera satisfies a part of me that I never knew existed until recently. I think a lot of this has to do with the element of surprise, chance, and relinquishing some of my control on the resulting image. It is definitely a mental exercise in letting go.
I long for atmosphere and even imperfection in my photographs. The Japanese have a term, “wabi-sabi,” which is basically an appreciation and acceptance of imperfection. I have begun to apply this to certain aspects of my photography, while also embracing an element of surprise, because I never know exactly what the film will do, or if the film will even record any information, for that matter.
Both of my parents have influenced my work. My mom has given me an appreciation of nature, and my dad instilled in me an appreciation of history.
So, while losing my dad has impacted me in ways that I may not yet fully understand, the impact he made on me while he was alive will always outweigh the impact that losing him has had on me.
I know this post has been somewhat of a ramble, but I know that there are so many people out there who are experiencing the same thing I am experiencing. If just one person takes a glimmer of hope from what I have written here, I will have accomplished what I set out to do when I sat down to write this post. You will never “get over” losing a loved one (and why would you want to? That seems inhuman) but I promise you, it will get easier.