In a week of such tragedy and grief, it’s hard to know what to write about. So much of what we do is about joy, fun and frivolity – parties, fairies, photobooths with silly hats, the excitement surrounding a new-born baby, the anticipation of a baby on the way. Somehow that doesn’t chime with the prevailing and perfectly understandable mood of anger, outrage, anxiety and sadness. At first sight, photography suddenly feels a bit of a luxury, a bit self-indulgent.
But that’s not the whole story. Not at all. As people photographers we are invited to capture key moments in people’s lives, from birth (and before) through childhood, school, university, graduation, marriage and parenthood. We see families grow, go their separate ways and occasionally reunite for a precious group portrait. Sometimes we even get asked to photograph people who are seriously ill, perhaps nearer the end of their life. Some photographers generously volunteer to take pictures of babies who have died before, during or shortly after birth.
At bad times, as well as good, people reach for photographs: photographs that stir memories, that show the beauty and personality of their loved ones. Who could remain unmoved by the images on social media pages this week as families desperately hoped for news and information. And at times of great sadness, photographs of happier times may bring some comfort to families in their grief.
Photographs also form part of social history, a permanent record to show generations to come their family origins, their daily lives, their jobs.
As photographers, we see people at moments of much happiness and deep sadness, on days filled with excitement, reminiscence, regret and absence. It is an immense privilege, and we never take it for granted.