I bought this century-old photograph at a going-out-of-business antiques store in Fresno, California. There's something about the composition and the lighting that struck me, and I decided it would make the perfect gift for a young photographer friend of mine who is amazing at portrait work, and who is just getting started with her own business. With her indulgence, here are my thoughts about this photo, as they apply to any new professional photographer just getting into the game.
See these three ladies? They sat one day at a table with a tea set, took a moment to have their photograph taken. Then they went on, they lived their lives, contributed to other's lives, and left their mark on the world. But are they remembered? Maybe, occasionally, by a grand child or great grandchild in passing, probably just as a name on a family tree. Sadly for their descendents, no one bothered to write their names on the photograph, but still...they are remembered because someone bothered to take the photograph.
A photographer, whose name is also lost to time, took the care to pose these ladies, compose the scene, carefully check the lighting. But the photographer also had to take the time to prepare the glass negative, load it into the camera, then afterward make the print and mount it. In those days, every photograph was a labor (with truly lots of labor) of care and creativity, not something taken lightly as images are today in the digital age.
The processes you and I use to capture moments in time, and moments of lives frozen for rememberance, might be somewhat different and more "technological", but keep in mind the bigger picture of what you are doing: you are giving permanence to a fleeting moment, to a memory. The people you photograph will grow old and one day pass from this world, but your passion and work will preserve their memories for those who follow them. By then, you and I will, in turns, have grown old and passed from this world, and our names likely will not be remembered either, but the evidence of our presence will always remain, the result of the few extra moments we take in composition, in lighting and exposing, our art, your art, will last, as you turn fleeting moments into solid memories. Always remember this, and let the significance of what you do shape every image that you make.