If You Could Wish For Any Photograph…

What do you love? What do you photograph? Is every photograph we make a self-portrait, a creation of something meaningful to us to show the world?

What do you photograph? If we only photograph those things that grab us visually, does that mean that we are missing photographs because of lack of interest? Or is it not possible for us to make them—we can only make that which we are drawn to?

If I could influence other photographers, if one thing I suggested were taken to heart, I wish I could encourage them to print photographs of their family, friends, neighbors, everyone they know, to put them in simple frames and gift them to them. To make photographs real again and have an influence in the way we and other people live with photographs in our space.

To spread the art of photography through printed framed photographs.

Nowadays, many people never print photographs, but I wonder if they were to see ours on their shelf or nightstand, would they possibly see the value in real prints, would they see that photographs have made their lives a bit happier, and we’d have changed the world in a small but important way?

When I make portraits and print photographs for friends and family, I often feel like I’m making these photos as much for them today as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see in 50-70 years. Like we are being asked by those children of the future to please document these special people now so that they will know them in a little way once all those years have passed.

A visit to the auction house.
A shared moment between bids.

There are a lot of phone photos that aren’t very much more than parking lot markers and simple reference photos. Food photos and locations shared in the moment to say, “Look where I am.” Maybe there are so many of these, that it seems like there aren’t any in the phone worth printing, nothing good mixed in with the plethora of “photo notes.”

But maybe we’re wrong and we’re missing them.

There are moments in our days spent with friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, that are part of our stories. It’s important to photograph these ordinary days, not just the birthdays and holidays but Tuesday dinner.

If you could have any photograph you can think of, a photograph your parents or grandparents had made of anything at all, what would you like to see? To be able to revisit? What photo would you wish for?

For me, there are many. I’d like to see a photo of my Mom and Dad dressed up for a Saturday night out at Liberty Bell Race Track in Philly, ready to go out while standing in our living room, my brothers and I being watched by our Uncle Francis for the night.

I’d like to see a photo of my Grandpop wearing his white button-down shirt and black trousers in the room between the living room and kitchen of his Port Richmond rowhome handing me a Frank’s cream soda (Slogan: Is it Frank’s? Thanks!) which he bought by the case and always had on hand when we came to visit.

I’d love to have a photograph of myself with my Dad putting up the flag on the flag pole on the front lawn in the Philly suburbs. Or of him “piddling around” in the basement at his workbench while listening to the oldies radio station on his transistor radio.

A photo of my Mother reading her Prevention Magazine on the recliner in the living room or juicing carrots in her Jack LaLanne juicer in the kitchen.

And I wish I had a photo of myself standing at the counter at The Camera Shop Inc. in the Oxford Valley Mall where I worked as a camera salesman as a teenager.

No photos exist as far as I know but this one exterior shot of the store at upper right.

Photojournalist David Burnett, who’s photographed around the world, recently said on a podcast that he wished he had some photos of him and his pals in college, just hanging out. Being friends. But they didn’t take any and now none exist.

Years ago I photographed every business in my small town, every interior and exterior for a tourism web site project, and because of that work, I documented stores and restaurants that wouldn’t be there in ten years.

Fifteen years later I found those photos, the website was long gone, and I posted the photographs online for town neighbors to see. People were ecstatic, so excited to see the old breakfast nook, the “pie place”, the Italian restaurant, the coffee shop, the artisan gift shop, the bike shop, the antique book dealer.

They weren’t responding to my great photography. The photos were competent but not terribly special, mostly just good clean records of the businesses how they were. Those neighbors were responding to their connection to those places that were no longer there, that they had numerous experiences in.

Time made them valuable to them. They never thought to photograph those places while they were there—why would they? But the passing of time, and the businesses’ not being there, they were missed. That’s where the value is in photography. When you create something that takes someone back to a place and time they can’t go anymore because it’s changed, it’s gone.

So, in a sense, we are time travelers. We take people back in time with our cameras. We are making photographs that are memories for someday to use to go back in time.

If we print them, so they can be kept.

There’s a responsibility given to the photographer: “Save this. Keep this for me. I would like to revisit this, and only you can see the value in photographing it now—I’m too close to it, I don’t even see it.”

It’s a job I take very seriously and with great respect for the viewers to come in some time, down the road. I don’t do it for the “like” today, but the genuine appreciation to come tomorrow.

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Find me with a new Video every Wednesday and Saturday on YouTube at HeresToGoodLight.com and my Daily Photography Podcast at Podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/daily-photography-blog-kenneth-wajdas-photography-talks/id1384332744 – Plus my RoyStryker documentary photo project that YOU can contribute to. Here’s to good light!

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