4 years ago today, a few minutes after 4AM on Sept 16th, 2005, I watched my father die from pancreatic and liver cancer at my parent's house in Connecticut. There were a handful of people in the room. Immediate family, his brothers and sisters, and one hospice nurse. I remember vividly that I was sitting at the end of the bed, touching his legs near his ankles. It was in all ways that can be described, a horrible experience.
In the days and weeks and years after his death I spent a lot of time trying to come to terms with the meaning of his life, and by association, the meaning of my own. After all, we had the same name. Wasn't he just me with a 30 year head start? What his goals were, what he accomplished, and perhaps most importantly, what he left behind. I came to the conclusion that along with our memories of him, he left behind a lot of 'stuff' that used to be his, but with him gone, just became a lot of 'stuff'. Up until that point in my life I spent a lot of time worrying about similar thoughts, worrying about money and 'things', but have come to the conclusion that it never really make me happy.
All of this led to a realization that, as I've put it since, "I didn't want my legacy to be that I sold 2% more toothpaste this month" You see, since my graduation from music school in 1998, I had been working as an Art Director in advertising. Designing and building the messages that made you buy more 'stuff'. So I made the decision to change my life, to start to value experiences over things, all of which led me to start my transition to photography.
I bought my first camera back in 2001. My friend Jeremy Kaiman took me to Adorama to help me pick out a Pentax K1000. He explained shutter speed and aperture over lunch, and away I went. For the first few years it was just a casual hobby when I felt inspired. But after my father died it became a way to create something that would last, something that hopefully meant something. Maybe if my photographs where good enough then I would be good enough and my whole life would mean something.
I knew I couldn't get myself to take pictures of events or babies, and so my mother told me to concentrate on my portraits which she thought were my strength. Then in January of 2007 I started 365 Portraits as the third consecutive year-long project I had worked on, basically a year long boot camp of practicing the craft for hours and hours each day. The rest from there is public record.
All of this is to say that I've been pretty cranky the past week, without really knowing why. Part of it is the weather changing, a little bit might have been Patrick Swayze death from pancreatic cancer, maybe a little 9/11 thrown in for good measure, but I think most of it was an unconscious observation of the anniversary of the most painful moment of my life. Four years is a long time. It can fit a college education. Hell, if you're really moving fast, a courtship, marriage, baby, and divorce. It's a length of time that is just asking you to look back and take stock in where you are and how far you have or have not come.
When he was alive, my father was difficult to impress. His criticisms difficult to overcome. There were many times when I was younger that I wished that he would just stop or go away. The funny thing is that even in his death, even after 4 years have passed, even though he's not alive to judge me anymore, I'm still trying to impress him. Even if it's only the memory of him. And my great fear is that I'm never sure that I have, or even could.
Considering that I'm trying to compete in one the most difficult of photographic disciplines, haven't been doing it very long in real terms, am self taught, and that we're all slogging through the worst economy since the great depression, I think I'm doing ok. Some of the things I've accomplished in the past couple of years are things many photographers never get the chance to try in their entire career. Magazine covers, national ad campaigns, full page portraits in TIME. If I were being objective and could step outside myself for a moment, I should be impressed. And while I am satisfied with most of my work, somehow I don't feel like I've reached my potential, and I think that is the real reason I've been depressed for a couple weeks.
Perhaps what I think is the ghost of my father, has actually become my own self that I may never be able to impress. This of course, is a double-edged sword. It means I may never feel satisfied with my accomplishments, but it also means I'm always going to strive to be better and then better again. The people who change the world are the ones who believe that they can. It's quite late now and I'm feeling a little punchy, and I hope that by the time I wake up in the morning my depression will have started to break up with the passing of time, and I can get on with making things which will make me proud. Four years on, that's the greatest thing I can hope for.
(btw, if you would like, you can read my thoughts on that morning four years ago)
ALSO: Who would have thought that 3 years later I'd take a 365 Portrait on a spot about 100 yards behind us in the above picture. http://www.365portraits.com/index.php?date=1005