At the beginning of each year, I review the prior year and look for patterns. I revisit my lessons. I see where I have grown and where I could use help. I also do this for every quarter, month, week, and day.
Since 2014 I've been representing the year past with one photograph, along with the story that goes along with it. Every year brings new challenges with this because there are so many gorgeous, connected, life- and love-affirming photographs I have the good fortune to create.
For 2018, this was pretty easy. Despite 2018 being the year I cried the most at work; despite 2018 being the year I connected with more families than I ever have for senior and end-of-life photography; despite 2018 being my best year in terms of skill and ability with a camera . . . it simply comes down to feeling.
My photography students hear me tell them over and over again that photography is more about connection and intention than gear and technical skill. The families I sit down with to plan photographs remark that one of the first things I ask them is "How do you want to feel when you see these photographs?"
This photograph may not mean much to you, and that's okay. I created it for me.
It's dark. The details are hard to see. Someone who didn't know this scene might have to search for what is important.
It's all right there in the middle.
Rhys and I are snuggled on his sofa. This was the week before he died; four days before I began my vigil with him.
Of all the places in our home, this is where Rhys wanted to be. He could see into the kitchen. He could see the front door. He could see who was going upstairs or coming downstairs. He could see the front yard. I have dozens of photographs of Rhys in various stages of rest on the sofa, often tucked under a blanket with his head propped on a pillow.
On this day, I pulled out my camera and tripod, set up my remote shutter release, and photographed us as I told Rhys all of the things I wanted to say. I thanked him for being in our family. I apologized for so many, many things. I marveled at how he changed our lives and would continue to do so. I told him I loved him.
I cried. I hugged. I sniffled. I listened. Oh, listening to his heart - his gentle, erratic heart that was days away from stopping - was glorious. Even with my head on his hip I could hear it.
I felt him. I smelled him. I soaked in every bit of him I could, knowing that this might be one of the last quiet opportunities for this kind of connection.
This is my photograph of the year for 2018 because it is the most impactful for me. I see this and the tears start right away. I usually need to sit down. The emotions I experience are so overwhelming I feel as though I am in this moment again in all the best ways.
That's what photography is meant to do.
You and I, we are lovers. We are givers. We are also the people most likely to be behind the camera rather than in front of it.
There are very few photographs in my collection where I am in the frame. Almost all are from professional photographers I hired for annual family portraits, and a few are from my husband. I knew I had the tools to do something different, and I knew what I wanted to see and how I wanted to feel. I knew I wanted to see me in it, because this love story between Rhys and I is something I've never seen in the third person.
Friend, do not write yourself out of your own history. Be seen. I can promise you that when you look back on these photographs later you might roll your eyes about your wardrobe choices or hairstyle; what you are going to see and feel is the connection you had in that moment. As the years go by and it seems harder and harder to access that connection, you will thank your lucky stars you have photographs to help plug you back in.
I'm counting on it.
I'm Shannon, and I love and am loved by four Great Danes, four cats, and one horse (four Danes, one cat, and one horse are no longer walking this earth). Here I'll share stories of my adventures in grief photography for companion animals, my own grief journey, and thoughts on caregiving.