Tommy Penick Photo

Commercial and Outdoor Adventure Photographer

Make Them Count

I originally had a drafted out blog post for this week, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, I decided to share this instead, which I posted yesterday to Facebook. I think this is an appropriate place to share it as well. I accidentally drew a collection of condolences on Facebook from the post, which I greatly appreciate, but please don't see this as a mournful posting of sadness, but instead a triumphant celebration of a life that I can't even fathom. I can't scratch the surface with words, and I won't even try. The things she did and witnessed through her life is absolutely dumbfounding; it makes me wonder, what am I doing with mine? What are you doing with yours? Make it count, like my grandmother did.

Several years ago in one of Pac McLaurin's photo classes, he showed us a short documentary about a photographer who took portraits of his father shortly before his death. The images were simple—one light and a black backdrop, but beautiful and timeless. I can no longer remember the photographer’s name, but I felt inspired to do the same. My grandmother’s health had just begun a roller coaster of peaks and valleys, and at her 90th birthday I took the time to make a few frames of her, my mother, and my great aunt with my old medium format camera and a cheap flash; this photo included.

Today, almost exactly four years later, we buried my Grandmother next to her husband and my namesake. She lived longer than most (94), and died last week of "old age"--a fatal ailment that I thought had been cured by modern medicine. Last night, my extended family and I poured over two centuries of old photographs, records, newspaper clippings, and charcoal drawings of relatives—the only remnants of these people's lives. Even the memories and stories of these people’s lives have been lost through the years; their immortality has been boiled down to just a few photographs.

I don't want to get on a photographic soapbox about how only photographs matter; instead, almost the opposite. At some point, nobody cares about some commercial image for a resort that helped make a buck. Nobody cares about some sunset in a magazine, or an anonymous kayaker hucking a waterfall that a few hundred people have run. Those images are more or less disposable in the grand scheme. In comparison photographs like this, that memorialize someone's likeness and their life, those images we shoot for clients are meaningless. At the end of the day, the only photographs that actually matter are the ones that can’t be replaced--the ones that captured something that will never happen again. One day 200 years from now, nobody will care about an image I got published in a magazine that has long since closed its doors; they'll be my relatives looking over passed-down memories.

If you're a photographer (or even if you're not), give this a good thought. Maybe next time you're around your friends or family, shoot a few photos that you might not be able to take again, and you'll be grateful to yourself in the future. I'm confident I'll be doing the same.

*standard blog post to follow soon.