I looked into her face and saw layers of emotion. It had been seven days since her firstborn son, Dan, failed to wake up on a Saturday morning. Now, after all nursing help had quit, Debbie Ripley cares for her second son, Dustin, two years younger than his brother. Like his older brother, Dustin has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and requires a ventilator.
I went to the Ripley house hoping to bring some comfort to old friends and to talk with and photograph Dustin. The brothers were inseparable and spent their lives together, rarely more than inches apart. As often happens, preconceived ideas change quickly. I am reminded there are many stories under one roof. We choose which ones to share.
Though father Dale and Dustin were grieving in their own unique way, Debbie’s face quietly spoke the loudest. Not until I returned home and looked at the images of Debbie on a computer screen did I see and feel her conflicting layers of emotion.
The gift of a still photograph lies in allowing us the privilege of studying, of journeying deep into a face without risk of voyeurism or embarrassment. Often, I see expressions or gestures in a photograph I did not see when looking through the lens and making the photograph. Studying Debbie’s face, I see fear and worry, strength and courage. Above all, I see the eternal burden and love of a mother.
I will forever encourage you, dear readers, to gather the courage to photograph real, unrehearsed emotion, even during life’s most difficult times. In darkness, there is always light to be shared. Though often difficult to photograph at the time, these moments become priceless treasures with time. A photograph can never contain the depth and complexity of our being, but at its best it can stir us and offer shadows of our inner person.
Reader Photo Challenge
Muster the courage to photograph friends in tough times. Based on my experiences, I am confident both you and your friends will grow closer from the experience.
I am photographing a church friend years younger than me who is dying. I interviewed her last week and photographed her. She said she feels honored I would use my “artistry” on her. She is handling her journey with faith and grace.
Please email your best image along with caption information to GPH@pur.coop. We may share some of the submissions on our website and social media channels.