The Photographer

I have no idea why I took that picture.

It’s not very clear and the glare from the flash is prominent, a powerful circle of light just up from the center of the shot. I exist in the photo as a glazed image, an echo neatly sliced by windowpanes. You can’t see anything through the glass except for the curtains. The white cloth is separated and the room that would open up behind it is not visible. The flash of light has turned a clear pane reflective and it takes a minute to realize that in the photo I am on the outside, looking in.

Featureless except for the red hair, you can see three fingers from my left hand wrapped around the side of the camera, with my index finger on the shutter button. My right hand is curled under the lens, keeping it steady. Based on the placement of my hand, I appear to be manually adjusting the focus. A small attempt at exercising control. It is a hazy image and had it been taken any other day, I would have thrown the photo away as nothing more than a strange mistake. But it wasn’t taken on just any day. This picture is the truest image of me in the hours after I learned that my sister died.

The remaining pictures on the roll of film are of the flowers that had bloomed just days before, and that was my intent in loading film in the camera that morning – to take pictures of the garden I had planted. I’m not a talented photographer, but I enjoy trying to capture the world as I see it, to save moments I find meaningful. So, on that morning, I slowly moved around the perimeter of my house. I looked at light and shadows and lines.  I surveyed the richness of color before me and felt unmoved. The flowers had lost their charm even at their peak. Still, I studied my subjects, touching the petals, moving in to smell the bloom, tracing stems with my fingers. Then I began taking photos.

A single daffodil.

A line of tulips.

A bunch of hyacinths.

Blades of grass.

I used different filters, adjusted the focus to blur flowers or background or both. Crouching and twisting, I maneuvered my body on the grass.  Beyond the chill the dew gave me, I felt nothing but the need to take pictures. I had a nervous, almost urgent energy, as if I were racing some unseen clock and had a small window of time to try to record their bloom. The variety mesmerized me. The shadows understood me; I too was separate and transient and dark.

I shot three rolls of film in less than thirty minutes. Each click on the camera was a deliberate and controlled act.  Picture after picture after picture.

Today, when people see the vibrant images hanging in my kitchen, they ask if I took them.

I tell them yes I did, they are flowers at our old house.

I tell them that I spent hours planting hundreds of bulbs.

I tell them that I preserved the flowers I had planted the only way I knew how, on film.

I do not say I needed to save something exquisite that had moved me.

I do not tell them that I needed to freeze beauty in hopes that one day I would again recognize it.

I do not tell them that the day my sister died, I took pictures of my world.

Image          Image

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Comments (12)

  1. Medea


    A verbal concert of beauty and grief. The objects we see with our emotions radiate those feelings as you’ve so deftly shown.

  2. Reply

    Absolutely gorgeous- not just the writing, but your soul, and your idea of photographing and keeping photos of the day your sister died. That symbolism is incredibly powerful and something I think could be useful for many people to do.

  3. Suzan Patterson


    So beautiful and moving. I understand this because I lost my Sister on this day 13 years ago. The need for some of sort of normalcy overwhelmed me. The only thing I remember is holding her as she passed away. I also remember hearing such an odd sound in the minutes following. It took me several days to realize that I was hearing my own expression of dispair. I miss you and love you JoJo.

  4. Reply

    It would seem that the pictures served to capture for you what can not be seen in the photographs by others – your loss. We see beautiful flowers where grief is hidden. You see the grief that the flowers represent. Such poetic symmetry. I am sorry for your loss. I lost my sister to pancreatic cancer three years ago this past September. She loved flowers….

  5. Debarpita


    If u have read “Man’s search for meaning”, & I’m almost sure u have… u’ll know what it reminds me of… ! Beautiful ! – to say the least…

  6. Tonja Owens


    This moved me and I marvel at your insight into the world of grief and beautiy!

  7. Reply

    so beautiful thanks for sharing your world, your strength, your vulnerability, yourself. I am reminded that others experience the world like I do and that makes me feel not so alone. thanks again for sharing yourself. lots of love to you

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