I was blessed to have had many great uncles. Strong men who valued family, hard work and fun. Two of them were photographers.
Uncle Ezio (Uncle Eddie to us kids) is pictured in the middle above and Uncle Joe (we called him Dr. Joe) is on the right… and I have many fond memories of both men. [For the record, I have many fond memories of Uncle Guy (we called him Dr. Guy) who is on the left too but this post isn’t about him.]. In both cases, I got to know them at a deeper and closer level in the few years before they died, learning some lasting and important life lessons that I carry with me still. One of those lessons pertains to photography.
Uncle Eddie was the oldest of my uncles and it was hard to make a connection with him. I’m told by those of his generation that he was fun-loving and warm, but to a small child, as I was, he seemed quiet and disinterested. At his lake house, he would take us out on his boat or fishing, saying little the entire time. Small talk was hard with Uncle Eddie.
But I remember that he always had a camera with him. He was the family photographer and as my own interest in the hobby began to emerge, I found this subject to be a bridge between us. I asked him questions about his Nikon kit and he was excited to tell me all about it. I was fascinated by the dials and buttons and he explained, calmly and carefully, how they all worked. Uncle Eddie then seemed much less quiet and disinterested to me. Sadly, he passed away just as our burgeoning photographic bond began to take shape.
Uncle Eddie was the family photographer and he taught me a lot about cameras and lenses, though never once do I ever remember seeing one of his photographs. Never once.
Dr. Joe owned every room he entered as his presence commanded attention. He was successful, caring and funny. Though I didn’t know him very well when I was younger, I remember a few family gatherings at his house. Everyone would huddle around the slide projector and watch big, bold and bright images projected onto a pull down screen in his living room. Once, we saw photos of a Hawaiian trip, once of his cruise into the fiords of Scandinavia. The images were spectacular, wide and expansive, beautiful, meaningful. They showed far off places that I hoped to some day visit.
I enjoyed getting to know Dr. Joe in his later years as he took a great interest in my quest to become a Catholic deacon. I learned during those years of his deep faith and love of the Church and I saw a completely different side to him. He told me that he was proud of me and I’ll never forget how that felt in that moment.
Dr. Joe was the family photographer and he taught me a lot about composition, framing and story-telling, though never once did I talk to him about cameras and lenses. Never once.
Readers of this blog will know that I’m pursing a path of photographic minimalism. I posted just yesterday about this process in relation to my decision to use only a single, fixed focal length camera from this day forward. I’ve been happy to talk about cameras and lenses here but I’m going to try to channel more of my Uncle Joe than Uncle Ezio from this point forward.
Stories, art, beauty, movement. The images. It’s about the images.