A photograph is a gift.
I wrote those five words and sat and stared at the screen for long enough that my wife probably thought I was asleep. And then? So what? So trite. It didn’t take long for my wander-prone mine to, well, wander. For better or worse, though, my attention-deficient mind has a tendency to turn wandering into wondering, wondering into questioning, and questioning into realizations and revelations about people, life, and self.
“Evidence of a life replete with love is, in my mind, the greatest gift a photographer can give to the world.” – Dan Winters
When I read this quote on a friend’s Instagram page a few months ago, I instantly wrote it down in my journal. (By which I mean I copied and pasted it into my Notes app- if you’ve seen the tragedy that is my handwriting, you’re applauding this decision). You see, over the last year, or two or three, I’ve felt an increasingly strong undercurrent in my work. Not only in the images themselves, but the heart behind them. I’m starting to understand that the current I’ve felt- “the beat beneath the blood”- is love. To reveal, understand, and record, and transcribe, and share love.
There isn’t one person or moment I can attribute that understanding to. Natural curiosity led to a small rainfall of conversations and questions, of loves witnessed and losses felt, that became a river, that became that current I sensed. Being invited into so many peoples’ stories- having monumental, tiny, quiet, chaotic, and altogether life-altering moments opened to me to document- it’s overwhelmingly amazing. All those people have paths to follow, they all have other people they love with all their hearts, they are living moments that will never happen again. And I- we- get to be there.
For me, it’s so easy to get caught up in the whole thing of being a photographer, perhaps especially a wedding photographer- the business, the taxes, the emails, the hours, scheduling, social media… it goes on and on. Often I find myself worrying more about how to make some epic photo that everyone will love than what that photo actually means. So I keep running back to why.
I didn’t love photography until I found my why; until I found my wilderness to chart; and, more importantly, the reason it had to be charted. The people around me- friends, strangers, family, anyone- they were my why. They were answers worth pursuing, threads worth unraveling.
It was through peoples’ reactions after I gave them photographs of them and their loved ones that I understood the answer to my purpose-seeking questions. To them it wasn’t about the brilliant composition, the film-like tones, the perfectly sharp focus. Sure, some people might appreciate those things, too, and that’s great. What mattered most, the true gift we can give with our photographs, is the little whispered moments of time, preserved and woven into a story. Dad’s tears as he dances with his daughter; hysterical laughter between friends; the way he looks at her and only her; the last great image of a beloved family member before they pass away.
We get to witness that and give a little grain of it back to people, to remind them how they’re loved, who they love, and just how much that matters. Because life is so damn short, and that is what counts.
That’s the answer to my why. Or at least, it’s the pulse of the answer. I think the real thing is deeper and takes much longer to find. For now, though, find who and what you love. Find who and what the people around you love, and show them. Give them a gift to help them remember always. Whether your heart beats for the little moments, the big moments, for weddings or for anything but, your why is there, and you’re lucky enough to search for it.
– Ryan | Ryan Flynn Photography
Our “What I Have to Say” Wednesday series features established photographers and artists with messages they just can’t keep inside. Authentically and honestly, our writers share words of wisdom to challenge, encourage, and inspire.