Some of you have may have seen my “In the Land of My Father” post from a weeks ago where I wrote about my trip to New Mexico with my father. As we passed through the little mountain town of Capitan, we stopped in to see a friend of my dad’s who was sick.
Actually, he wasn’t merely sick. He was dying. He’d been sent home from the hospital since there was nothing more to be done. He’d been through rounds of chemotherapy so that, when we saw him, he had no strength and couldn’t speak. The sight of him lying on his makeshift bed - he was too weak to go upstairs to his bedroom - and the awkwardness of not being able to understand his feeble words was too much.
I stepped out and wandered through his front room which was filled with memorabilia, antiques and art. His sociable wife, who seemed to be filled with all the energy that he lacked, led me to a stack of fiber-based, black and white prints shot by the dying man. Knowing that I was a photographer, she proudly talked about his work as she asked questions about mine.
As I politely flipped through the matted prints, I was filled with an emotional weight that comes from realizing that this is the sum of one man’s photographic life. This is it. No more is to come I thought as I viewed the entire stack of 40 or so prints. There was one in particular that I enjoyed, perhaps because it was not unlike some of my own work. I think it was one his favorites too since there was more than one print from that image.Though the man who had created this work was silenced, his work spoke to me for him. In connecting with that image, it allowed me to connect to the man lying in the next room.
Before we said our awkward goodbyes, my dad suggested that I take a photo of him. I was surprised to hear him murmur an okay. Most folks want to look their best for a photo, but I suppose the photographer in him understood the importance of documenting the moment, vanity be damned.
Later, I reflected upon the thought of what it means to be a photographer and the idea of the legacy that I’ll leave behind. As an artist, my work also has the ability to speak for me when I am gone. Faced with the reality of mortality, I wondered what my work will say and whether anyone will listen. With awareness comes a sense of urgency too. The time to create is now!
Today, my dad called to tell me that Lonnie Lipman died. My guess is that this is the last photo taken of him. As one photographer passes on, his likeness joins the body of work of another. With any luck, some of his spirit too.