A teacher onceEngagement session in North Little Rock, Arkansas asked me, “What would the world be like without photography?”

And the phrase came to me, “We are giving people their faces.”

What does that mean, exactly?

It could be quite prosaic: the face changes with each decision the photographer makes as to lighting, angle, lens selection. But that’s not what I meant.

We are giving a face to the world, with each photo we take. And, in doing that, we make people more real to each other. Photography, at its best, fosters more love and understanding between people. It creates a bond, even with people we don’t know, knew only briefly, or will never know.

Let me tell you a couple of stories.

ONE:

In high school I went on a trip with 4-H to Washington, D.C. There, I met a friend who changed my outlook on life. I had my little point and shoot camera with me, but I was too focused on taking pictures of monuments and buildings.

When I got home (this was in the days before Facebook or email) I had only one photo of my friend: blurry, far away, and from the side. I spent the next six weeks trying to recapture what my friend looked like.

TWO:

Here is where things get kind of heavy. In college I had another friend who did even more to change my outlook on life. One night, I went to look for him, and couldn’t find him. It was two days later when I found out he was missing, and four days later when they found his body, in a shallow grave, in a remote area of the state. They were only able to identify him by his tattoos.

What saved me — and what, even more, saved his mother, his brother, sister, and niece — was that I had just taken photos of him, kidding around with a new piece of camera gear. These photos showed his true, goofy nature. One of the last things his mom told me, was that she was so glad there was a goofy photo of him, because that’s how her granddaughter (who was 6 years old when he was killed) would remember him.

AND SO:

What is your face? Your real face? What’s in there? What’s real in your life? Who matters most to you? What’s the most precious thing in your life? A look that flickers across your partners’ face? The way your child grabs your hand? What is it that you want people to remember about YOU? About your love? Your life?

Tell me. I want to know.