They say a picture is worth a thousand words. A great photo captures a moment in time in such a way that it becomes an icon, a representation of an era. The best photographs are classics that never become outdated. Capturing such a moment with a camera requires artistry, or at least a great deal of luck. Some people have an eye for snapping the camera at just the right moment to provide a timeless portrait of a person, a scene or an event. A great photo causes us to pause and think and ask questions. It needs no explanations to portray a split second in time.
I have many favorite pictures. Some are quite personal. Others are works of art. All tell a story. I’ve always been in awe of antique photographs that managed to record either the horror or the glory of a particular occasion or period. I love the joy of the Times Square picture of the sailor kissing the nurse at the end of World War II. I am touched by the desperation in the weathered face of a mother in the iconic photo of people moving during the days of the dust bowl and the Great Depression. I am moved to tears by the horrific image of the little Vietnamese girl running naked through a street of Vietnam with her napalm burned skin slipping from her body. I have bleak memories when I see the stark black and white image of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. I smile when I think of Marilyn Monroe standing over a sidewalk duct with her white dress lifting in a circle around her beautiful essence.
I have a photograph in my kitchen that I purchased at an art show presented by students from a school where I once worked. It is one of my all time favorite photos because it encapsulate so much wonder. It features a group of young children raising their arms and looking upward with glee. The creator of the magnificent image was Martin Hernandez who told me that he saw the children reacting to a runaway balloon that had slipped from their hands, and floated into the heavens. With the eye of a true artist, he quickly snapped a picture, and then wisely cropped it to show only the children with their outstretched arms.
Martin went on to attend the Bauer School of Business at the University of Houston but his days of artistry were not over. He became a professional photographer, combining his skill with a camera with his expertise in business. He creates one amazing picture after another with an eye for detail and finding the soul of his subjects.
Most amateur photographs look the same. People stand in a row and smile for the camera. There is always someone looking a bit off because it is so difficult to snap an image at exactly the right moment. There is an unnatural discomfort about the vast majority of photos, but now again magic happens. I have a few of those in my collection of family, friends and travels. Perhaps my all time favorite shows my grandmother Minnie Bell feeding and tending her chickens. She almost comes to life in that still photo taken on her farm.
Another image that I have always loved is of my mother and father at a college ring ceremony in a time when they were so young and in love. They stand in their formal glory under a gigantic replica of a Texas A&M University Aggie ring. It encapsulates so much about them and the hopefulness that they must have experienced in that moment when their lives together were only beginning.
I have a picture of my grandmother Mary that I also treasure. She is sitting on her front porch with me on her lap and I can almost feel the calmness that was her trademark. Two photos that feature my grandfathers also seem to have captured the spirit of the men that they were. Grandpa Ulrich stands straight and tall in a decidedly early twentieth century suit staring emotionlessly but proudly into the camera like the founder of his domain. Grandpa Little is seated on a bench on the occasion of his one hundredth birthday, looking dapper with his brand new suit and his hat tilted jauntily on his head.
I prefer photos of people, but my husband invariably focuses on scenery. I can never tell when his photographs of our travels were taken because they do not have the stamp of time that people provide. He has captured some incredible views, but I wonder if anyone else will want them when we are gone. The real treasures are the pictures that help us to understand the people who are important to us or the images that capture history.
I’m not particularly photogenic, so I tend to avoid having my photograph taken. I don’t have many photos of myself past the time when my mother recorded my history as a child. I’ve yet to find an image of myself that I really like. Cameras do not love me. Perhaps one day I will get my sister-in-law, Katie, to attempt to find the magic in me that she so deftly finds in others. Maybe I’ll ask Martin to try his hand at making me look natural rather than self-conscious. I’d like to think that one day my children and grandchildren will have a remembrance of me that is a wonderful as the photos that I have of my own parents and grandparents. Those treasures are priceless.