Since the end of this last wedding season, I’ve been laying kind of low. I usually take a few weeks off, and then dive right into preparing for the new wedding season, with updated brochures, new pricing and package options, and usually a new project or two. A few years ago I introduced my video slideshows, “Pictures That Move”. Soon after that I introduced my Fine Arts Albums – custom printed albums that feature the best moments from an event, fine tuned to their absolute highest quality. Years before that, I spent my off season time on my game of questions, Play Say What. Before that – other projects, goals, dreams and intentions.
After spending a few days with my mother this week, and taking on the ongoing project of organizing her untouched 52-year old house for her, I came across some never before seen photos of my father. I had never seen a photo of him at this young age. It’s a photograph of my father at 13 – an age that, until now, had gone undocumented. I’ve seen photos of my father as a toddler, a boy, a young man, a man in dental school smoking a pipe while he studied (I suspect to look cool for the photo his roommate took of him for his girl back home – my mother), a man moments away from being married to my mother, a man newly married to my mother, a man drafted into the service, an Army officer in uniform, a young dentist, a new father, a tired father, a man between homes with a family to support, a man on vacation who was too restless to enjoy the time off, a man grieving the loss of a favorite child, and then another, a man who transitioned from father to grandfather, a man diagnosed with cancer, a man dying from cancer, a man as he took his last breath. But I had never seen a photograph of him at this age. Thirteen. That age between childhood and manhood – just stepping into an adolescence that didn’t last long before he was expected to divide his time between work in the coal mines, and school.
My father was right handed, yet he has a catcher’s mitt on his right hand. Was he challenged to throw with his left hand – a perfect explanation for a man who could never say no to a challenge, especially at this age, I suspect? Or was he too poor to own his own mitt, and so a friend gave him his to use that summer day. His hair is long, and he has a punk expression – cocky and adolescent. For a man who spent his life trying hard to be dignified, I suspect that this was the slice of time when he might have used foul language – maybe even talked back to his strict Slovak parents. Who is the boy, Charley, standing behind him? Someone who invited him into trouble, even if that “trouble” was just to come home long after he could hear his mother’s call for supper? And where were they when this photo was taken? It looks like it was taken in front of the house my father grew up in – the house he visited every night many many years later, to offer his lonely father an hour’s worth of company in the years after my grandmother had been gone – no matter how late it was, or how long my father had worked that day. There is a child in the back ground – the house next door – reaching for a door knob. Had he been called in from play? There is a lone car down the street. Who did it belong to? Did my father ever go for a ride in it, on some special ocassion? Further in the back ground there are people on every front porch – some sitting on swings, some standing against railings. What stories did they have about my father at that age that I’ll never hear?
Finding this photograph made me realize that I have an obligation as a photographer – an obligation that doesn’t involve picking up my camera – but to look, instead, at the times someone else did.