Riley died this morning. In his owners’ arms. There’s a dignity and openness to the passing of pets that humans don’t often afford to themselves.
We’ve known for a little while that Riley’s time was coming soon. Since last Fall there’s been talk of photographing him. He was plenty old enough to have already had a good inning. Like much of life though, time passed, leaves fell from the trees and so we decided we’d catch him in the Spring.
Life had a different plan. The poor guy got ill in a hurry. Lymphoma. It was really not in the least convenient to photograph Riley Friday lunchtime: His owners came home specially, I made time in a silly-busy day and we all did our best to make the most of a horribly-beautiful moment. It might easily not have happened as I’m sure some time this week would have worked much better for all of us. Of course now I can’t imagine not having taken the photos. I like them but then of course we all loved Riley. I hope his owners will treasure them. They’ll likely not ever crop up in my portfolio but that because these photos belong to a different category; a more important one.
We all get busy and let life pass us by. Even professional photographers forget to take photos or make video at important times. Whenever I teach a class there’s only one shoot I’m guaranteed to talk about. No olympians, corporate titans, polititians or movie stars – just my grandparents.
There’s a pile of reasons why these portraits might never have happened, yet they are now my most treasured. They’re also among the first formal portraits I ever shot. I was still a petroleum engineer at the time and had just discovered a passion for portraiture through correspondence courses with the Open College of the Arts.
My grandmother had been ill for a few months and so when she went into remission we headed straight over to see her. I was determined to shoot my grandparents’ portraits. We had a lovely time together but the more time passed the more afraid and self-inhibited I became. But for my then-wife’s sage intervention I might not have got up the courage to make the photographs. A little diffusion & bounce later we had a lovely little photo studio ready and made the amazing discovery that my ever-cheery grandmother was pretty stoic in front of a camera and that my butcher grandfather was a total ham! It was a very special shoot and I know my family will treasure the photographs forever.
In this crazy life we all need to
take make time to honour what matters to us. As image creators I believe we’re obliged to use our art in service of the ones we love.