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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-07-11

Gray Matters: Photograph everyone you love
Jim Merithew wants us all to be grateful for the gift of photography and to start following his Uncle Bob's advice immediately.

By Jim Merithew, San Francisco Chronicle

Photo by Jim Merithew

Photo by Jim Merithew

Jim Merithew's niece Evelyn Merithew in her living room in 1997. She was frustrated and her uncle Jim was there to document the moment.
Evansville Courier & Press photographer Bob Gwaltney once told me that there are three things that all photographers should do immediately. One, go buy a copy of Robert Frank's The Americans, read it, soak it in, live it. Second, photograph yourself naked. Finally, photograph everyone you love on film and store the photographs away some place safe. He recommended that this be done often, because the people you love change and sometime who they are also changes.

Since receiving this advice I have never owned fewer than three copies of The Americans. Every used copy I have ever come across I have bought, much to the dismay of my loving wife. I find Robert Frank's photographs beautiful. The way that he worked has never ceased to amaze me. He was the quintessential unobserved observer. At a time when everyone else was shooting cheese, he came along and captured the world as it was.

If you don't own a copy of The Americans, go buy one. Or you could just come by my house and tell me that you have never heard of Robert Frank. I'll sit you down, start my Robert Frank rant, and then give you one of my copies.

I have also pulled out my crazy photographs from my art school days and I have to say, the only photographs that have held up over time are the ones I took of myself naked. Not because I'm naked in the photographs, but because they are so raw, so filled with youthful enthusiasm, and so historic. I sometimes wish I could have held onto that art school bravado, but alas I can hardly look at my naked self in the mirror now, let alone photograph myself that way. If you have never done it, I recommend you do. Art is a beautiful thing.

By now, you might be asking yourself where this is all going, so here it is. My mother is sick. Not flu sick, but kidney failure sick. And I want to thank Uncle Bob for reminding me to photograph my loved ones. When I was younger, my family members were regular subjects of my photography, but somewhere along the line I became a serious photojournalist and only photographed important subjects.

Photo by
It wasn't until Bob reminded me that I realized my life was just as important as anything else I was making pictures of. I started to photograph my wife, my brothers and their families and my parents. I photographed every visit. The funny thing is, they loved the portraits, but didn't really understand why I photographed the kids crying or my dad shaving. I have a photograph that I took of my niece crying that my mom threw away because she didn't like it. I can't wait for my niece to graduate high school so I can give it to her as a gift.

For the longest time I thought having the photographs was the most important thing, but as time went on, I realized it has also been the act of photographing my family and friends that has been important. Making the photos helped me to relate to my family. It helped me be in the moment, and it helped me understand who my family is and who they want to be. I am grateful for them and I am grateful for the gift of photography. Don't delay. Start following Uncle Bob's advice immediately.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.


(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/merithew.)


Related Links:
Merithew's member page
Book: The Americans

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