“Life is your art. An open, aware heart is your camera. A oneness with your world is your film. Your bright eyes, your easy smile is your museum.” ~ Ansel Adams
It has been a harsh winter here in Seattle. The gray blanket that coated the city in November has brought with it a longer, colder, wetter, and sadder winter. I have never had to endure the level of anguish and loss as much as I have this past winter. Our beloved Bonzai, our cat of almost three years, has passed away. She had a terminal illness (FIP) which took her from our world way too soon. Her passing came on the heels of the loss of my best friend of 12 years Sydney (an australian shepherd) this past December and a grandmother in March.
As I sat with Bonzai these past days trying to make her as comfortable as possible, I tried to soak up as much wisdom as she was willing to offer between her catnaps and snacks of freeze-dried chicken. As with my beloved Sydney, there is so much that comes from the insights of a pet near the end. The sense of peace and calm they have day-to-day is a brilliant gift they unselfishly share, as if they know more about our connections into the universe and the ultimate journey we walk in a way we will never understand.
It it sometimes hard to explain to people who are not pet owners the impact a pet can have in your life. For Lori and I, they are our family. We don’t have any children and so our dogs and cats have always played that role. Like people with children, we are better people because of our pets. They remind us everyday to be the person they think we are, and they remind us of the amazement and joy of simple things like coming home to a hug, taking a walk, sitting in the sunshine to take a nap or savoring your favorite treat.
As for my dearest Bonzai, she was not your typical cat. She got her name because when she was a kitten, she would run full-speed up your chest and head-butt you in the face. Those early months were a very cute and bruising time in our house. She was also a huge sports fan (even more than me). Every morning before work, I come downstairs and turn on the TV while getting ready for work. As soon as she heard the da dada da da of Sportscenter, she would come running in and jump onto my lap to watch the prior night’s highlights. On her last night, we watched Sunday night baseball with the Rangers and Yankees. Once the Yankees got a lead in the seventh, she mustered what little energy she had to huff and jump off the couch. She walked out of the room and back to her bed as if to say “Yankees Suck!”
Sitting with her while I retold stories of all the great things we did together and how much Sydney would be looking forward to getting her kitty buddy back, she would intensely listen and occasionally offer a little advise on this and that. At times it was simple wisdom about the value of sunny weather and catnip, other times more philosophical in nature. One topic that we discussed a lot was something that has been difficult for me lately as a photographer. That basic question of why do we photograph? What compels us to photograph? How do I know if my work matters? Am I photographing things of interest?
I know that Joe McNally is right and that the language of photography is light. It is a language that we all must become fluent in if we are to succeed at the technique of our craft, but that only answers half the question of why things in life matter enough to us to create an image. Ultimately, there is something else that moves and pushes us forward. It is the compulsion to grab the camera and actually push the shutter. It is what has us get up early, stay up late, talk to complete strangers to share in the creation of a portrait.
In the end, Bonzai let me know as I took some of the photos that you see here of her and of Sydney that we photograph for one reason and on reason only. Because of love. We find things in the world that are so true to our souls and how they connect us in ways we never imagined. We pick up a camera, capture the light, the soul, and the essence of what lies in the space between us and those things we truly love.
The photos that matter to us most are not images of perfect execution, but they are images that we feel in our hearts. They are images that shake the foundation of who we are to our core and tell us something about who we are as people. As photographers in that moment, we can’t help but take the image. We are compelled to share love.
Bonzai only made one last request of me while we talked, she asked that I give up all the crap that I carry in my head and just start to share love in my work. Find those things in life that I love and photograph them, print them, web them, flickr them, email them, staple them all over the world. She said that in the end the greatest gifts she ever got was the love of her family and that sharing that with others was why I should be photographing.
All my heart and love go out to my mighty Bonzai. I will always miss you and love you. Also, know that you will always be in my heart and soul. Give a hug to Sydney.