Two years ago I took an image that I consider my “most important photograph.” Even though I consider it my most important, it was not the best picture taken with my camera that day. While I consider photography important, I did something more important than take pictures that day. I handed my camera to a boy while we walked on a bridge.
Two years ago, I wrote about Xander’s Crossing. The bridge connects me to a support group for mothers whose children have died. After my father had committed suicide, I chose to help people who were isolated, and somehow I found myself on this bridge two years ago.
I was also a journalism educator. I knew that journalists were taught to keep their distance when covering stories. I also knew that some training conflicted with the goals of journalism. First, journalists who “kept their distance” were most often the same journalists who invaded families’ personal space. Secondly, journalists who “kept their distance” could not tell an accurate story. They did not have the facts. I hoped to be a “bridge” to journalists and those who were grieving.
In journalism, and especially photojournalism, ribbon cutting ceremonies are usually considered poor picture making opportunities. This time, a young boy cut the ribbon where seven years earlier his younger brother died after being hit by a train. Elijah was preparing to walk over the site where he had witnessed his brother die.
As I handed my camera to Elijah, I took a few photos. Then he took about 26 pictures with my camera. These 26 images belong to Elijah. I edited his photos less than I would my own and I only included them after contacting his mother and gaining permission through her. I only cropped one photo (#16 of 26), and I included the whole series.
People seemed to respond differently to him. Perhaps changing the camera’s focus gives us a chance to see what other people felt. I did not ask how the reporters felt, but I am certain that they all cared. Everyone at the event seemed to want the family to heal. The reporters hoped that the ceremony would be a positive memory. The journalists wanted to believe that the bridge would save lives.
Journalists tell stories like this so that other journalists will not need to tell stories like this.
And then there is this photo. This is a picture of Love. Look at how Elijah’s family, friends and larger community are looking at him. I hope he sees how much people care for him. I hope he feels it.
After Elijah returned the camera, I kept taking pictures and the family kept walking. The ceremony was not quite a celebration. It was eventful. Emotional. Two years later, I was finally ready to look at the pictures again. I am glad I looked, because I was ready to see something I missed the first time.
A few quick notes, I often hand my camera to children so that they can feel more part of the process. Usually, most of the photos are returned out of focus. Somehow, all of Elijah’s pictures seem to be in focus. (I might add more in a Notes on a Blog post, but this is enough for now. Also, if you want to see my “most important photo” go to image 31 in this slideshow from two years ago.