Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Saying goodbye, and other unpleasant events

Today, I killed a good friend.  Shazam, a wonderfully loving Vizsla / Springer Spaniel mix, had lived with us since she was weaned 11 years ago.  Our oldest son is only four months older than she was.  Our three kids have never known a time without her, and she was a great companion to them and, recently, to my daughter's 2-year-old Shih-Poo.  Zammy had the softest coat of any dog I've known, was very obedient, very loyal, and generally a great friend.

For multiple reasons that I won't go into here, I had to make the decision to put her down today.  Suffice to say that selfishness is a dangerous trait.  It was likely the hardest decision I've ever made.  My two older kids (11 and 9) accompanied me to the clinic to say goodbye, and this was the worst day of their young lives to date.  They will no doubt grow up a lot this week.

Our tendency as parents / photographers is to record the pleasant memories in life.  Everybody likes to look back fondly on the past.  That's hardly an honest representation of our experience, though.  My wife is a big scrap booker, and we prefer to capture every aspect of our lives -- many of them happy, some of them mundane, and some of them even unpleasant.  It's the memories of these emotional times that stir your soul, remind you that you're alive, and inspire you to act a certain way going forward.  One need only look through the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs to witness this first hand.

To that end, I've tried to use my camera to capture not only the birthday parties and evenings at the park, but also skinned knees, hospital stays, and funerals.  Sometimes it feels awkward at the time, but looking back years later, even the crying subjects are always thankful to have those memories.  Just make sure your first priority is to those in need, not to making photographs.

National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore promotes this same mentality in his book, Photographing your Family: And All the Kids and Friends and Animals Who Wander Through Too.  It's a great book for any family photographer, BTW.  Sartore also happens to live just a couple miles from me.

Today, my camera turned toward a grieving family as they said goodbye to a faithful pet.  Last week, it found a toddler in the hospital.  Soon it will record a funeral celebration for the end of a life well lived.  Try it sometime.  Your family will probably thank you.

"Life is pain, highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something."

As always, I'd love to hear any comments you'd like to share below.


  1. Ohhhh. You've really captured the essence of this sad moment with your (and Noelle's!) photography. I'm not usually one of those gals who tears up easily, but this set of pics sure put a lump in my throat. So sorry for your loss.

  2. Thanks, Valerie. Life without her will be a big adjustment. Putting a lump in your throat was exactly what I was going for with this series -- I'm trying to improve my storytelling skills.

    Also, congrats on making the first comment on my blog!

    Others should note that Valerie is the one who shot that photo at the top of this post. When we first started looking at options for Shazam a few weeks ago, Valerie was kind enough to spend a few hours one evening doing a proper studio shoot of Shazam and me. They turned out awesome.

  3. Ben I am so sorry for your family's loss. You have had a very rough go of it lately and to be able to still capture these life moments is incredible. When I taught scrapbooking classes I always said we are the family historians, include the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you for sharing the raw emotions of loosing a loved one. I think we have forgotten how to grieve and the benefits it has. We are in a fast lane society that says get over it and move on. Praying for the healing of broken hearts.


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