“Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it waiting for us to come home each day. It is amazing how much love and laughter they bring into our lives and even how much closer we become with each other because of them.”
― John Grogan, Marley and Me: Life and Love With the World's Worst Dog
Recently I had an experience that reminded me, with incredible clarity, of why being behind my camera means so much to me. A few weeks ago I woke up like any typical day, perused my schedule, and thought about what prep I needed to do for a family photoshoot I had booked for 4 pm that afternoon. It was a slightly different kind of photoshoot, in that the family had received word a few weeks earlier that their sweet dog, Shasta, had cancer and her time with them would be limited. In a profound expression of love and compassion for Shasta, her Mom declared it the "Summer of Shasta", and she created a bucket list of joyful summer activities for Shasta and the family, promptly getting to work to make it all happen. I was so honored when they asked me to be part of the "Summer of Shasta" with a family portrait featuring Shasta in a leading roll.
The morning of the shoot, Shasta's mom texted me at 6 AM saying something was wrong. Shasta was not moving and she was worried Shasta might not make it through the day. She asked me to come to their house to do the photoshoot that morning before the kids left for school so she would have at least one last picture of their family with Shasta...just in case. So, I packed my own little ones off to daycare and school and headed to their house. As I gathered my gear and approached the house I saw neighbors somberly filing in and out to say their goodbye's. Inside, the kids, who were unaware of the reality of the situation, were upbeat and happy to see me, but I could see for their parents there had recently been tears. Shasta was quiet, laying on her little bed, and we all worked together to coax her outside to a comfortable spot on the back deck where the family could gather and play around her.
The photoshoot was very brief and we had limited space to move. Our priority was to make sure Shasta remained comfortable, so I just asked the family to hold her and gently cuddle with her as they normally would and then I did the best I could. As I photographed them I had tears in my eyes as I could see Shasta's Mom and Dad struggling with questions like, "Is this it?" and "What do I tell the kids?" It took me back to losing my own dogs as a child and the intensity of the sadness I felt at the time. And I felt sad for Shasta...Sweet Shasta.
We wrapped up quickly and I said my own goodbye's before Shasta's Mom and Dad took her to the doctor. I kept an eye on my phone all day, waiting for word about Shasta. Finally that night I received a relieved note that Shasta, while still very sick, would have a little more time with them and that the "Summer of Shasta" was not over yet. Shasta's Mom was so happy we had done the photoshoot, however, as it was something she could check off the bucket list and she could relax knowing they had a family photo.
In reflection of that day, I feel immensely grateful and humbled that this family trusted me to be there and witness this raw and emotional moment in their life. It is that kind of experience that gives meaning to this work. Photography, to me, is about something we all desperately crave from the core of our being...the magical power to momentarily stop the passing of time....to capture, honor, and hold forever a moment of profound importance, love, or other emotion. Sometimes those moments are obvious and sometimes they are fleeting, seen only because of the presence of a camera. Ironically, the photograph itself is not for the here and now. It is for ten, twenty, or maybe fifty years from now, when those children are grown and Shasta is long gone. Its about holding that picture in one's hand and being so grateful to have that one thing to connect us to that person, place, or moment in time. And so with that thought and the inspiration of this family, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other and pursue this dream of mine, because photography feels like a purpose, it is a way I can serve others, and in moments like these, there is truly nothing else I would rather be doing.