The Portrait Photographer

I stopped a few minutes ago to look at a photo that hangs on our wall. It’s a photo of our family, taken not quite two and a half years ago. My children seem so much younger. It seems like a lifetime ago.

When I was 13, I was watching a TV show with my father. In this show, someone was making prints in a darkroom. I remember saying, “wow, that is so cool. I have got to learn how to do that!”

My father was retired military, so we had base privilges. Base recreation had a dark room and offered instruction. A few days later, I learned how to develop film. A world opened to me that has been a part of my life ever since then.

In the 90’s, I put up my camera gear. There were some personal reasons why I lost interest. I had some nice gear, but it sat in the closet.

One day, in late September, 2005, I was sitting in my office. I had gone to Court that morning and had a court appearance later that day. I was not feeling well. Suddenly, I had crushing chest pains. It radiated up my arm. I was dizzy and nausuious. I thought to myself, “I am too young for a heart attack.” A reasonable person would have called 911.

No one has ever accused me of being reasonable.

I drove myself to the hospital. Not even, the nearest hospital, but the hospital nearest my home. If you ever want to see people move fast, just be a middle aged man, walk into an emergency room and announce you are having chest pains. I was moved into the back quickly, hooked up on oxygen, all kinds of pads, lines, sensors and who knows what else.

The good news was, I had not had a heart attack. My blood pressure had skyrocketed. I took it as a wake up call and got seriously back into photography. A few months later, I went to a portrait seminar in Las Vegas.

Monte Zucker was not a household name, though serious photographers knew who he was. He taught the class, and I learned more in those three days than I had years earlier. I also saw something amazing. Monte had a passion for what he did, which is something I did not have.

Monte had scheduled a class for Nashville later that year. I signed up for it and offered to help get people lined up to be models for the class. That also included bringing my own family in for a portrait. The portrait almost did not happen. My youngest son did not want to be a part of it. Monte coaxed him and soon he was in the picture, smiling and laughing.

Monte told me afterwards, almost prophetically, that portraits are gifts the photographer gives and they continue to give, long after the photographer is gone.

Very shortly after that class, Monte announced he had terminal cancer. One March evening, only a few months after that class, Monte passed away.

Monte is gone, but the photo he left us remains one of our most treasured possessions.

And Monte was right. The photograph continues to give to us, long after he is gone.

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