If The 46 Project is to be successful, it’s important to look at what I do, how I spend my time, and figure out what really adds value to my own life. If something takes up time from me and my family, but brings no value in return, then it needs to be jettisoned.
I have two true passions in life outside of medicine – music and photography. I’m sure I’ll get around to discussing music at some point, but it’s complicated. My love of photography is a little easier to explain. I’ve recently spent (too much) time watching some YouTube personalities and their work. 30-year-old me would have been filled with envy at their talent, skill, and all-in level of commitment. Middle-aged me thankfully just sees inspiration and a free way to get some useful tips on lighting, composition and editing!
When a guy named Peter McKinnon talked about the first real photograph he took, and how it instantly grabbed him as a passion, I could relate. It didn’t quite hit me as the religious experience career choice he had felt, but definitely struck me as a form of expression I wanted to learn more about. I can’t draw or paint, but I can push a button!
Like so much of the good and bad in my life, this obsession has it’s roots when 12-year-old me lost my mother. After she died, I carried a small photo of my family in my wallet everyday for the next 20 or so years. One really good photo. Wallet sized. I still have it. The last real photo of my family before disease started to take grip in my mom. Once I started my own family and life had moved far along its tracks, I made the conscious decision to stop carrying that photo. It would not survive another 20 years in my pocket, and it was important I preserve this memory of my memories.
Mom had been our family archivist, and I moved the photo albums and scrapbooks she had created for me more times than I want to remember. Moving is not fun and I had one more big family move looming on the horizon. So when I was about 40, I finally brought myself to break down the photo albums my mother had crafted in those first 12 years of my life. Her labor of love was represented by each photo, carefully held on the fine black paper by 4 gold corner stickies. Hundreds of photos, all laid out by her hands. I wept as I finally pulled each from their decades long home and placed them in a box to be digitized at a local photo lab. These books were bulky, and heavy, and the pictures were showing age. It was time to simplify and I did not want to move those books again.
As I pored over these hundreds of photographs, I was struck by how few actually had both of my parents in them. And how desperately few there were of me and Mom. I wept again. Hundreds of photos, with so few showing my family as I knew it to be. The family I really wanted to remember.
Weeping in my son’s bedroom, my compulsion to pursue photography in some shape or form was truly born. I carry on her tradition of being the historian of our family – but I also make a conscious effort to be in more of those memories than she was. Not for vanity, but for posterity. I’ve seen in my life and the lives of countless patients that we cannot take our time together for granted, and should something ever happen to any one of us, I want to know that we have captured our lives together beautifully to help keep those memories alive as long as possible. I know from experience that memories in the mind’s eye fade over time, but one look at a photo and those memories come flooding back, and the fading image in my mind’s eye is now back to vibrant Technicolor.
Yes, I know I annoy my kids with the camera. I’m ok with that. They are only kids once and I’m going to capture these moments. But should I do less? Oh no, we don’t get better at much of anything by doing less. It brings me inner peace, and love, and joy. So I think for The 46 Project, my conclusion is to do better and shoot more. A lot more…