Amnesia, loss, love and portraiture
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Amnesia, loss, love and portraiture.

Throughout my life, I’ve come to find that teaching and practicing photography is a great way to learn about how to live. That was definitely the case while I was leading a photography workshop at WPPI (an annual photography conference) on the topic of Capturing Meaningful and Authentic Portraits. The main focus of my session was to help the students look past the surface and to connect with their subjects in a meaningful way.

The session began with indoor instruction and ended with shooting outdoors. The conference organizers supplied a few models for the students to put into practice what they had learned. It was an awesome experience watching the students work. After the workshop was over, I asked one of the models if I could capture a quick portrait, and she said yes. The first few portraits weren’t very good. Sure the model looked great, the light looked great but something was wrong…. the portraits felt shallow. They were beautiful but empty.

My intuition gave me the nudge to search for me. I asked the model a few questions about life ( interests, hobbies, travel and that kind of stuff). We chatted, but the conversation was surface deep. So I paused and asked, “If you were to get to the end of your life and look back over it, what would you regret?” She took a breath and responded, “That’s a great question. Without a doubt I would regret never having been vulnerable.” I was intrigued. Her face softened and suddenly she looked less like a model and more like a friend. I responded, “Tell me more?”

She shared a small slice of her life story. It began with a forward lean, smiling eyes and a kind tone. She explained, “I had been in a long term relationship with a wonderful man. I was deeply in love but afraid to tell him so.” She knew he was “the one” but hadn’t yet expressed how she felt. She explained, “For some reason, I wasn’t able to take the risk to express my love, and I lost my chance.” Her boyfriend got in a car accident and sustained injuries that left him with permanent amnesia. With tear filled eyes she softly said, “Now he doesn’t remember me at all. But I know, I know… that if I had told him I loved him, he would.”

She wiped away the tears and we stood in silence. After a few moments, we talked some more. Eventually, I asked if I could capture a portrait to honor all that she shared. She said yes, and this portrait was made.

And for me, this is a portrait that feels honest, meaningful and real. It isn’t the best portrait and it isn’t going to win any contests or clients, but that’s besides the point. Every time I see it, I am reminded of the importance of being vulnerable and especially communicating, sharing and expressing love. Because without love we all forget. Maya Angelou said it well, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Through experiences like this, I’ve come to believe that the whole point of photography isn’t to “get the shot”, but to learn how to live, love, savor and celebrate the gift of life. The camera is just a tool that helps us along our way. And when we commit to the craft it has the potential to awaken the artist within. And I’m not talking about the artist as content creator but the artist as one overflowing with life and love. As Vincent Van Gogh succinctly put it, “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people.” At the end of the day, it’s all about love, and that is something I hope none of us ever forget.

Thank you for reading and for joining me on this journey.

Chris Orwig


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