thoughts on Newtown one year later and the importance of portraits


One year ago, I vividly recall seeing a post referencing a school shooting on Facebook. What? Where? Then another. Then 50. Everyone had something to say. Confusion. Disbelief. Sadness. Anger! I was overcome with emotions as the details started to circulate.

Once Will was down for his afternoon nap, I took a deep breath and turned on the television. Oh, the images! Burned in my memory, I can still recite the images that scrolled for hours and hours. The anguish and fear, the horror. My heart was broken and terrified all at once. I wanted to hide in a cave with my family, swapped texts with several friends about home schooling. The President's press conference! Hysterical, I called J and he came home from work early. We held each other. We held Will. We talked about the sort of world we would be bringing our little girl into just two months later.

The worst was the wondering. What was it like to be in that school? To be such a young child and see so much. Too much. To be a parent and hear the absolute worst news of your life. To not hold your child's warm body again. Oh, those dark places are still too hard to fathom and yet have guided me, shifted who I was and now am as a mother, wife and business owner.

The day after, photographs started circulating of the young victims and stories from their classmates, profiles of their likes and dislikes, information on their families, acts of heroism by their teachers. This tragedy was getting more personal. I couldn't turn away. I felt like I had to learn as much as I could and I needed to honor those little lives.

A few of the shared students' images were taken by professional photographers in Connecticut, no different than the family portraits I have taken for years for holiday cards or anniversary gifts or summer sunset groupings in Maine's sand. This, more than anything, affected me- paralyzed me- put my purpose into clear view, exactly the sort of clarity I didn't know I needed but suddenly could so easily pinpoint. In an instant, there was no value too high on those family memories. Winning the lottery couldn't trump their wealth.

A week after the shootings my grandfather passed away. There weren't enough tissues in our house last December. Surrounded by family in my childhood church, I gazed at an oversized portrait of my handsome grandfather on the altar, an image that J had taken from when my grandparents were visiting newborn Will and was selected by my nana to be featured at the funeral from the collection relatives had offered to her. It was hard to comprehend that that photo, a simple snapshot from our family album, suddenly carried such significance and still does, as it has a permanent spot in my nana's home. Wallet-sized images were sent in her holiday cards this year. Not exactly the kind of Christmas card photo you would expect to receive, but a loud confirmation of portraits' importance.

In the weeks leading up to Clara's birth last February, the events of a long December caused terrible insomnia. I lay awake every night with a light on until dawn when I'd finally doze as the sun rose to begin a new day. In those wee hours, emotional and overtired, I'd imagine the Newtown parents awake, too, and mourn that they couldn't peek in on their children as they slept like I can, one of my favorite parts of the day. I'd think of my nana alone in her house. And I'd reflect on life and all of its lessons, seeking meaning.

What I found was inspiration for documentary portraits. For taking photos of families being families. Not just polished and perfect like a wedding day, but real, honest, everyday imagery. Because it's just as beautiful and everlasting. Over the past year, clients have slowly started to understand and are game when we ask if we can photograph in their homes and not in matching outfits at the beach. They understand when we continue clicking through a tantrum or stay late as they cozy up to read bedtime stories. There is still a long way to go. I dream of "day in the life" portrait photography becoming a staple offering for our company- a complete day from start to finish- and feel like we are closer than ever. By this time next year wouldn't it be wonderful to have a body of work in this style to share with you? Oh, yes, I say this is a wonderful opportunity to dedicate the next spin around the sun to just that.

And so, if there is any silver lining to be had from this day one year ago, for me it has been the clarity I found in tragedy that what we're doing counts, not just on wedding days, but with families on regular days, too. Go hug yours and God bless.


1 comment:

  1. I have never read EVERY article about a news story like I read this one. It really hit me hard too, Emilie. I love documenting families but it's so hard to convince them of it's importance. This could offer a great perspective.


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