Monday, October 4, 2010

Facing loss

Sometimes, photographs are the best way to tell a story. But they have limitations.

One of my assignments last week was to photograph Connie Sacks, whose husband, a former soldier and contract medic with a government agency, was killed during a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan in July. She was clearly still in shock and emotionally raw. Despite that, she shared her story with the Herald. She shared the story of his life, his heroic actions after being mortally wounded, as well as their love story – one for the ages.

How do you show that, with a photograph, during a short interview in her living room? You can't. Photography is best used to create emotional connections. So I knew I had to craft an image that was emotional.

When I first entered the living room, I noticed how the soft window light created a distinctive mood in the room. I knew I could use that to my story-telling advantage. I listened as writer Holli Deal Bragg asked questions and listened to the responses. Connie alternatively beamed with joy and choked with tears as she recalled her life together with husband Max. He was all around her. In the home they renovated together. In the yard they got married in. In the furniture he restored. In the seashells they collected. All the while, she clutched his military dog tags that she wore around her neck.

Personally, I hate to shoot over-posed, directed portraits. But I knew I would have to do a little coaching in this instance. I posed Connie by the window to take advantage of the light. And I told her how to hold the dog tags, which hung near her waist, so I could photograph them close to her face and still maintain a natural feel. She was nervous to be in front of the lens. In the end, though, I really didn't have to do much. Almost immediately, she gazed at the object and began to reflect. I had my shot before she even had a chance to get uncomfortable and think about what we were doing.

So, yes, this is a posed portrait. Not my favorite thing to do, especially under the circumstances. But it couldn't be more honest or more real. I hope it's a suitable tribute to both Connie and Max.

Sometimes folks ask me what you say to people under those circumstances. In this case, I thanked Connie. Sharing her story was courageous, and it's a service to our readers and our community. Grief will touch us all at some point in our lives, and we can learn from how others cope.

And we remember those we've lost through those who remain.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.