In Photography, Portrait, Relationship

Things happen for a reason that cannot be explained. The key is to be receptive to the unknown as it wanders through your field of vision and remain open to where it can take you. Actions today can weave a tale that can take days, months, or even years to complete. For me, it took 69 days.

I attended a Festivus party this past December. The majority of the guests were psychologists. Given my warped sense of reality, I must have been a great piece of entertainment for them. Through conversations with many of them, I found myself in a great chat with someone named Linda. As we talked about this and that, she recommended a book for me to assist me with some family members dealing with cancer. We exchanged emails and that was the end of it. I figured as the pleasantries of a cocktail party biz card exchange typically result in nothing more down the road.

Fast forward 69 days from Festivus. I proceeded through the Christmas season, more battles with cancer, and finally settled down into the new year. Then the “Ghost of Festivus Past” reared its head and entered my life over a cup of early morning coffee. Linda from Festivus, emails me out of the blue asking me if I would be interested in photographing a friend of her’s, Ines, with spreading stage 4 breast cancer. Ines is about to go under facial radiation and wanted some good photographs of herself before her eyes drooped, skin burned, and potentially her face that she’s had her entire life changes forever.

I was blown away by this request and as the day progressed, I had a couple good conversations on the phone with Ines and then I brought up what is important to me and to my business — I wanted to meet with her before I agree to photograph her. I need to make sure it will be enjoyable for me, for her, and both of us together. I need to feel a connection. When I tell her I will be the one walking into Starbucks with a giant foam cowboy hat, she had no problems recognizing me. As she came racing up to me howling in laughter, I asked how she recognized me so quickly.

We were off to a fantastic start.

An hour and a half later, we had found what we were both looking for. We had an awesome connection, a game plan for photos, and we were going to make it happen before the radiation treatments started in the next week or two. Yup, this had been one hell of a day and it was only mid-way through the afternoon.

Fast forward a couple days, and Ines’ radiation started on the Friday ahead of our Saturday shoot. She confirmed with the doctor that this first session wouldn’t impact her eye or face for the Saturday’s photo shoot. I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal, when talking with an oncologist over the phone about radiation on my optical nerve, to ask about a photo shoot the day after.

Friday’s radiation done, Ines wasn’t feeling too great and didn’t feel she could make the trip to Banff which was our original plan for photos. I told her to worry about herself and I would deal with the logistics of a local photo shoot that was still going to be special. I planned something south in the rolling foothills where the prairies meet the majestic Rockies. A part of me wanted to have some time driving so I could have one-on-one time with this fantastic woman as we drove from location to location.

When I picked her up in the morning, she was excited. I was excited. Neither of us had a clear idea of where we were going and what we were going to do. She put her trust in me and I put my trust in the right thing happening. Our collective trusts were well placed as the right things did happen and it made for an awesome day. We spent the next 5 hours driving to different locations and gabbing the entire time. At each stop and photo shoot, the pictures got better, and better, and then they became awesome! Ines became more comfortable in front of the camera and both of us started to get into an amazing collaborative union.

Then we blew things open with a change of location that included her friends and family.

Ines had thrown the net wide open and invited all those in “her tribe” to join her for an hour at a urban park and participate in a group photo shoot as a wrap up to her portrait day. The photos we made together with all of us were amazing. The images paled, however, when put beside the incredible group of people who had come together for this one hour. Their richness of appreciation for what I was doing, a deepness of love for Ines, and an awesome sense of oneness permeated “the tribe.” Over the course of the next 90 minutes, people casually drifted in, hugged, laughed, chatted, and posed. Then they faded out after having spent a bit of time with Ines, others, and me and my camera.

I cannot say I was witness to an incredible group of people because I was a part of it, inside the fold, and invited to feel all the love there was. So much was I part of the tribe that they never hesitated inviting me back to their home for hot chocolate. Likewise, I never hesitated in saying yes.

Conversation was incredible and I felt so much like I belonged in their home, drinking hot chocolate, and talking with everyone that I did something I never, ever thought I would do — I grabbed the memory chip from my camera and we scrolled through the raw files on a computer. Never do this. Never let the client see your shit. But these were no longer clients. These were members of my tribe. I was a member of their tribe.

All this unfolded in 4 days, after a 69-day gestation period which start with a simple cocktail-party-conversation around an aluminum pole at a Festivus celebration. I had no idea this would happen, but I was open to something fantastic wandering into my peripheral vision and to grab ahold of it before it faded away.

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