For the longest time I felt like I was working at a place where I didn't matter, that what I did was barely a step up from working at Burger King (no offense if you work at BK...keep on making those delicious burgers cause if there is one thing the world needs, it's burgers). The hours are sometimes crap, the pay is sometimes crap and people crap on you well, because they can.
I've been cussed out, cried on, puked on, snotted on, hugged on, laughed on, and a whole bunch of other 'ons' than I can think of right now.
A few years ago, the woman who used to babysit me was in town and wanted to meet for lunch and catch up (yes, I still talk to the woman who babysat me some 25 odd years ago) and I chickened out and didn't go.
Her daughter (who is the same age as me) is a doctor. A freaking doctor! And me? I am a photographer. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. Here, her daughter went out and actually did something with her life and while I went to college, I didn't have a decent job, or a prestigious job. I was just a photographer.
I regret not meeting her for lunch. I knew she wouldn't care what I was doing with my life as long as I was doing something decent (you know, not selling drugs or using drugs or being a cheap street corner hooker or whatever).
It is what it is, I can't go back and change it.
Today though, on the way home from work I had a realization. What I do is important. I have an important job. No, I'm not saving lives like the doctor, I'm memorializing lives.
Back in November I had the privilege of taking some family pictures for a very nice family. Normally, I take them and then I;m done. They rarely cross my mind unless they're repeat clients. It sounds harsh, but some weeks we literally photograph over a hundred different families. It's hard to remember them all.
This one, I will always remember. A few days after photographing them, a man calls the studio and says that they need a photo because the father in the family passed. When I heard the name I was shocked. I said to a co-worker, he was so full of life when I photographed them, how did he just suddenly die?
In the family it was a man, his wife and daughter and his parents. I thought it was his father who passed. But when his father walked into the studio I felt sick. It was his son. He was struck by a truck who'd run a stop sign and hit him while he drove his motorcycle.
I teared up and hugged his father, telling him how sorry i was for his loss, then promptly went into the camera room and cried my eyes out.
I felt the feels. I mean, I took his pictures and a few days later he passed. Of course I felt the feels. But you know how it is, life goes on and something else comes up and you have to move on.
Then today, my best friend tags me in what I think is some news story and the only thing I can think of is, why did she tag me in this? I mean, it's sad, but I don't think I know these folks.
Of course, me being me, it drives me nuts trying to figure out why she tagged me, so I type the persons name into the search engine on facebook and try to find out who it is.
When I finally see, I'm stunned. It;s this kid, this seventeen year old kid that I've photographed on a few different occasions. I did his graduations pictures and his family pictures with his mom and older brother. I did his Christmas pictures again with his brother.
He passed away after sustaining injuries in a car/atv accident.
I am in shock again and my heart breaks for him and his family. He was just a kid. He hadn't had the chance to graduate high school, to fall in love, get married, have kids, go to college, spend more time with mom...nothing.
I realized tonight that my job is important. I may not be saving lives, but I;m saving memories, faces, times that people will ultimately forget. I save it for them, to hang on their wall or preserve in a photo album, to look back on when their days are darkest. To remember, after a moment is long gone.
I am a reminder.
My job is important. And no matter how many times I'm cussed out, chewed up and spit out, laughed at or made fun of, I will do my best to remember this. I am the one who has to do this, I chose this job, I chose to carry the knowledge that sometimes I will be the one who takes that last picture, the one that is blown up and displayed at a funeral. I will use this to become better because I never know what might happen after you leave my studio.