Life, Sadness, Photography

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It’s been awhile, I know. A few weeks ago, a photographer friend of mine passed away, having fought melanoma for the last few years. He’d started new treatments, seemed to be doing well. I hadn’t heard from him much, hadn’t seen much activity on Facebook, and knew he wasn’t traveling and photographing as much as he had been, but I’d hoped for the best.

It’s really unfair, and I’m having a hard time coming to terms with his death. Gregarious, magnetic, and potently talented, he was someone I consider myself very fortunate to have known. He was both sounding board and inspiration for some of my own photographic endeavors, and we had unfinished plans to travel to and experience exotic places–to photograph them, to enjoy them, to let the sights and sounds and smells soak in and become a part of us.

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It’s been hard. I haven’t photographed much recently, instead digging into old photographs from the past, reliving memories. Not just of ┬áthe few times spent with him, but digging into my own past, remembering people, places, and things that have touched me in my life.

Point Bonita Lighthouse, Marin Headlands

Point Bonita Lighthouse, Marin Headlands

I have felt hopelessly powerless, faced with this loss of someone so talented, so brimming with possibility and potential. It doesn’t make sense, it isn’t right. He was extraordinary in his ability to touch lives, and so ordinary in his humanity, in his struggle against a disease that ultimately won in a prolonged war of attrition.

I take some solace in knowing that he will live on in memories, and that the photographs he took will live on beyond him, and that he was able to experience some wonderful moments before he passed. But I also feel small, and fragile, and helplessly insignificant in an impossibly large and indifferent universe.

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More recently, the things I have photographed have been personal, everyday things. Things that are maybe not extraordinary except insofar as they hold meaning for me. Things that I find beautiful, or touching, or somehow significant.

His work, his opinions, his views, have influenced my own photographs, and will continue to inform how I shoot, though my aesthetics and my approach are patently different.

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I hope, somewhere along the line, that I have touched someone in some meaningful way, and that I have left my own mark on the world. It doesn’t make the contemplation of our mortality any easier. Doesn’t mean that my life is any more significant, or important, or worth remembering. But it will mean that I’ve shared something of this extraordinary world with someone else, and they might carry it on with them, as I will always carry him with me.

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I’ve thought a lot about how to pay tribute to his life, to celebrate what I knew of it and of him. Nothing seems adequate, nothing can fill the void that has suddenly yawned wide in front of us. I didn’t even know him that well, or for that long, corresponding from an opposite coast.

Photography is, for me, at this moment, so incredibly powerful and simultaneously hopelessly impotent.

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Photography has been my way to meet wonderful people like Jeff–to experience the world with them, and through their eyes.

I, and so many other people, have been forever altered by him . His absence, even here, so many miles away, is acutely felt.

The world is a poorer, dimmer place without him. The only way for me to honor and celebrate his life is to continue to push myself to seek beauty, and truth, and life in my photographs, and to spend the precious little time I have doing things that are worthwhile.

We miss you, Beardy.

5 Comments

  1. Megan Wenger on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Mark, this is so beautifully written. You have captured much of the emotions we’ve been going through – helpless, powerless, how truly unfair this is. I’m so glad you took the time to share this. I know Lukas also has a long list of unfinished travel plans he made with Jeff. Our goal is to visit those places and honor Jeff’s memory. It will be impossible to be out in nature, experiencing the places Jeff loved or wanted to see without having him in our thoughts.

  2. mschueler on Aug 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Megan, I hope to do the same–I’d especially like to visit the places in the Sierra Nevadas that Jeff and Lukas visited. I know they were special to him.

  3. Craig Coak on Aug 27, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Well written, Mark. I never got the chance to meet Jeff in person, but feel like I got to know him a bit via NSOP and FB. I know that his photography has been a big motivator for me to get out into the mountains more and I will think of him every time that I do.

  4. sandra sylvia on Aug 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    A beautiful heartfelt tribute to honor Jeff

  5. Bob Hutchison on Aug 29, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Mark, Although we live on Poplar Point, and we’ve known the Lawton’s for nearly 40 years, I did not know Jeff. However, thanks to you, his family and those who spoke at the memorial service, I feel like I do know Jeff. As an amateur photographer myself, I really do appreciate the photos you’ve provided. You write well! Best regards to you and all of Jeff’s family and friends.

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