39 : My Papa
“What are you going to do with those photos?” my Grannie asked.
“I’m not sure,” I answered honestly. “Maybe something. Maybe nothing.”
I could tell she was bewildered. As if I had to “do” something with the photos to make this moment worth photographing.
In casual conversations, people often confess to me: “I’m not a photographer.” There’s always a twinge of longing and regret in their voice. It’s as if they secretly desire more than anything to be a considered a photographer by the outside world.
“Do you take photos?” I ask.
“Yes,” they nod cautiously.
“Do you enjoy taking photos?” I continue.
“Oh yes!” they say.
“Then you’re a photographer,” I declare.
“Oh no,” they argue. “There’s no way I’m a photographer! You’re a photographer, you get paid to take photos.”
These conversations always leave me feeling melancholic. It’s as if people think that being economically rewarded through our capitalist system validates my status as a photographer. For me, being a photographer is so much more than getting paid to take portraits or photograph weddings. For me, being a photographer is a way of interacting with the world. A way of processing what’s going on around me. Exploring a new city through my lens allows me to notice details of the place and moments of human interaction that might otherwise pass me by. Hiking a mountain trail and photographing an expansive view or a mossy rock helps me appreciate the richness of nature. And sitting with my Grannie at the hospital beside my dying Papa, photographing those moments allowed me to process the fact that he would not be there much longer.
These photos aren’t glamorous wedding photos or refined studio portraits. These are raw documentary photos that depict sixty years of care between two life partners. Of a man surrounded by a loving family. Of a hospital room where an old man falls asleep from one moment to the next.
It’s hard to articulate with words the impact that my Papa had on my life. I’m lucky to have had so much time with this man who helped shape me into the person I am today, and who accomplished so many things for his family and community with his energy and creativity. In a quiet moment making my morning tea or walking down the street, it hits me that he’s not going to be there next time I go home, and for a moment I feel dizzyingly disconnected from reality.
It’s been the most challenging of winters for my personal life. Thanks for joining me in this most intimate of blog posts. I look forward to emerging from the winter fog into clear summer days and challenging new projects. More to come...
This blog post was written and photographed by Montreal photographer Selena Phillips-Boyle.