the photographer

“Heather the Photographer” by my friend Brianne

When I was a kid, I often asked my grandmother if I could see pictures and hear stories about my Uncle Tommy. We’d go through the same small stack of photos over and over. I’ll never forget the time she said to me, quietly, “I wish I had more photos of him. I don’t remember a lot of things in my old age.”

I’ve been taking pictures for as long as I can remember. My mom, a photo buff herself, always had a camera I could use (with real film, and a flash cube!) and I enjoyed taking pictures of the things I thought were important, especially when we were on vacation. Looking back, I can’t imagine how much my parents spent on film and developing. I really appreciate that they let me snap away.

Throughout high school and college, I always had a camera in my bag. Usually it was a disposable, and I spent large portions of my work-study money paying for film and one-hour developing. When I graduated, my parents gave me a digital camera and I literally took so many pictures with it that I broke the shutter, twice. When Madeline was six months old, Mike and I invested in a DSLR, and a whole new world opened to me.

Because I always had a camera I was often the group photographer, and I have tens of thousands of photos of my friends and family to show for it. I have ridiculous and beautiful and amazing shots of Jackie, and my Aunt Kathy, and my friend Desiree, and of course, of Madeline. I love sifting through the photos and seeing happy faces and silly expressions. Sometimes staring at the little details of Maddie’s face can pull me out of a panic attack, or seeing Jackie’s face frozen in laughter can stop my tears. I treasure those photos.

I’ve heard the argument that nowadays too many of us live life behind the lens, and that we instead ought to preserve moments in our memories. That would be great if our brains were perfect, but they’re not. I often can’t remember what the story is behind some of my candid shots, but I know it must have been a good one if I’d pulled out my camera. When I fear I’m forgetting the little things about Madeline, I have my photos to comfort me.

Of course there is a balance, but I’ve found modern technology helps with that a lot. I rely a lot on my camera phone because it’s small and unobtrusive. I can snap a few pictures of my kids walking, or riding a bike, or pulling to stand for the first time, and still be able to catch them when they fall. Sometimes a picture or two is all that’s needed, and after decades of being the group photographer I often have to remind myself that less is more.

That being said, I’m thankful I have so many photos of Maddie. My grandma’s quiet wish for more photos of her son took on a whole new meaning after Maddie died, and that is always in the back of my mind when I have a camera in my hand. When Annie was a baby I took pictures out of fear something would happen to her. Now I take pictures because I appreciate what I have, and I’m afraid I’ll someday forget it. Without pictures, I don’t know where I’d be in the grieving process. I am comforted in knowing that when my memory hitches and falters like my grandmother’s did, I’ll have my pictures to help me through.