John Edward Lenhart, 1927 - 2012
Earlier this morning, I received news today that while incredibly saddening, is a humble reminder of just how strong an impact photography can have. Around 10AM this morning, my grandfather, John Edward Lehnhart (Ned), passed away. For the sake of both my family and myself while writing this, I'm going to spare the details surrounding his death. After all, this post has no meaning being on a photographer's blog being a "woe is me", this post will be about photography, and what it means to be a photographer during sorrowful times.
About three and a half years ago, I was an eager senior at The University of Findlay waiting, excited to start his first ever Digital Photography class, with professor Jeff Salisbury. Within seconds of the sounding bell to class, Jeff asked the class, "Why do we as humans take pictures?" The flurry of usual answers ensued, "To express ourselves!", "To capture the world around us.", so on and so on. After a few minutes of not hearing the answer he'd wanted to come out, he started to get a little bit teary-eyed and asked the class, "What about because people die?". All fifteen of us students, stunned, had no idea how to respond to that. After a few more seconds of silence, Jeff went on to explain how a young woman he'd taken senior pictures of several years earlier had died in a car accident earlier that morning. He hadn't been taking the news well all day, and explained to us all just how important it is to get any pictures we can of our loved ones, no matter how mundane the portraits may seem at the time.
Today, with a bit of a smirk and a tear in my eye, I can confirm just how right Jeff was.
What I used to think was a questionably executed photograph, an exercise in bad film loading, and a test sheet in a new developer, is now one of the strongest photos I have of my grandfather. Most of my relatives didn't even know this photo existed, until today, and now I'm going to spend the next several days making silver gelatin contacts, per my family's request. A typical snapshot of that loved one today could be one of the only things you have when they are gone.
So the next time you're photographing your boyfriend/girlfriend, spouse, crazy uncle, family pet for the ump-teenth time, calm their frustrations by letting them know these shots are for you.
Now get out there and make some great pictures!