Pretty much my entire life has been documented on film. My dad was a photographer. That wasn’t his primary profession, that was being a history teacher, but he was also a professional photographer, and he taught photography, too. It seemed to go very well with history. It’s as if he was documenting everything. So I grew up on both ends of the lens – I don’t remember ever not knowing how to handle a camera, and I don’t remember not knowing how to sit for a portrait. My father and his students would frequently use me as their model in his classes. It’s made me very particular about photography and photographers. It was one area where I refused to skimp for my wedding. As a result, I have wonderful wedding photos.
Being so particular, I’ve also been frustrated at times. School photos come to mind. So I find it ironic that my seminary had the misfortune to choose a very crappy photography vendor to be the commencement photographer. We were instructed over and over that our friends and family would not be allowed to take pictures during the ceremony inside the National Cathedral, but, not to worry, there would be professional (well, “professional”) photographers there to memorialize the occasion.
These photographers, from Island Photography (I highly don’t recommend them), managed to completely screw up the only photos I was interested in. The Seminary President is very tall. Yet the photographer positioned himself behind the President, so that for the handshake photo, only the very tallest person (and I think that might have only been one person) would really be completely visible over the shoulder of the President. Framing a photo was one of the first things my dad taught me as a little girl. Further, it was evident, from the thumbnail (which Island Photography eventually removed from the website because of its inferior quality), that the photographer was using regular autofocus (not even portrait autofocus), so that the camera just focused on the nearest thing, which was the sleeve of the President’s robe. Which would be lovely, if I wanted a photograph of a doctoral robe. Unfortunately, even in the thumbnail, it’s evident that my face is out of focus. And it’s not only my photograph.
This is likely because Island Photography hires people who aren’t photographers to go to events and point and shoot cameras at people. They don’t hire photographers. I’m not surprised. I’m just disappointed. The seminary won’t be using them again, but it does nothing for me and my classmates.
So that’s disappointing, but now I’m reflecting on the irony of a life that has been so painstakingly documented on film having this gaping hole now. I mean, it happened. In fact, I was handed my actual diploma when I shook hands with the President (you know, when the photographer got the photo of his sleeve). It happened. I have my degree. The thing I spent six years working towards. Not having a photograph of it doesn’t change that. I won’t forget it.
I used to take pictures all the time. Not as much as my dad – I don’t remember him going anywhere without a camera. Ever. But I used to take a lot of pictures. Until my son Sean was killed in an accident. And then I just stopped. As if, somehow, I could stop the world from changing, stop the world from going on without Sean if I didn’t document it. But that didn’t happen. The world continued – my life continued, after Sean died. Not documenting a life doesn’t prevent the life from continuing, just as documenting a life doesn’t guarantee it will continue – it only preserves what’s happened already.
In the midst of this, I have also had to send a photo to the Unitarian Universalist Association for use in the Service of the Living Tradition. As I have now been welcomed into preliminary fellowship, I will be honored in this service, along with my colleagues who have also received preliminary fellowship, those who have received final fellowship, those who have retired this year, and those who have died. I have my intern photograph from the church I’m currently serving, but for this, I thought that I ought to be wearing a robe, so I asked Twenty-one-year-old to take a picture (she’s grown up with me and spend a lot of time with her Pop-Pop before he died, so she’s pretty handy with a camera, too). So it’s not the academic photograph, but it wouldn’t be anyway. Because the M.Div. is just one part of my ministerial formation. And that’s really the thing, isn’t it?
The commencement was a big thing. It was a wonderful day. I was so glad that friends and family were there to mark it with me, along with my classmates. But the M.Div. ins’t what turned me into a minister. Not by itself. So that moment isn’t preserved on film. It isn’t preserved well on film, anyway. But other moments in my ministry, and my life, have been and will be. And whether they’re documented or not, the important moments, the critical moments, will be remembered. I, um, I think just in case, though, I’m going to hire a trusted photographer for the ordination.
That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.