How nostalgia and meaning evolve with images and time

The meaning and importance of a photograph changes over the years. Nostalgia also gets redefined as the decades pass.

I photographed the Chapman’s wedding in Chicago at the Standard Club several years ago. From the moment I released the image set, Mrs. Chapman immediately started sending me emails, regular mail and leaving me phone messages while crying for weeks.

One of the emails was formally inviting me into the family, yet laying down the rules and expectations.  

”This is to inform you that, effective immediately, you are invited to all family holidays, dinners and events, including, but not limited to the following:

  • Valentines Day (Only jewelry gifts accepted)
  • Nana’s Birthday 3/28  (Bring 83 of whatever you buy to celebrate her 83rd)
  • April 1st Party (You will be the only one showing up)
  • Passover (BYOL—Bring You Own Laxatives)
  • July 4th (Jell-O-in-the-Park Chapman Family Picnic- Very gross and hot)
  • August (Month off from all Chapman family events)
  • September (Rosh Hashanah 4-hour svitz bath in apples & honey)
  • October (Wear-your-Halloween-costume-to-work-all-month family tradition)
  • November (Hang your Thanksgiving-belly-out-of-your pants family dinner)
  • December (Chanukah Family Bill Swap Party. Bring a bill you don’t want to pay and swap with someone else in the family!)

Mindy immediately knew what these images meant to her family legacy and had a heightened appreciation for the documentation of her daughter’s new life.  

Fast forward several years, Emily, the bride, contacted me about Mindy’s recent diagnosis with brain cancer.  I was shocked and saddened to hear about this knowing there are not many Mindy Chapmans in the world. We couldn’t lose a good one too early, could we?

Emily wanted to surprise her mother with a family session before things worsened and brought back part of the all-star team from the wedding. Makeup, hair and photography were in order.  While Mindy was getting her makeup and hair done, she still had no clue what was going to happen. Towards the end of their preparations, I walk in, and she immediately started crying.

I cried.

She embraced me and we sobbed together for a good few minutes as the family left us alone. I had to be a friend, a family member, a professional and a therapist. Vacillating between these roles was difficult, and I just hoped deep down I was making the right kinds of pictures. 

The image set is heavy and emotional, just like the process of shooting it. It speaks about love, tolerance, kindness, friendship, good times and bad and at the same time giving thanks to the present. I could have easily made glossy pictures of happy faces, but the Chapman’s offered me a roller coaster of emotions and I am so grateful they trusted me enough to handle those emotions with dignity in these pictures.

It’s only been several months, and Mindy passed recently.

I tell my clients you will love your images when you get them, but they will age like a fine wine, and as time passes, that meaning will mature and evolve. And for the Chapman and Marks family, both their wedding images and their new family session have already taken on a different meaning.

Thank you Richard, Nana, Emily and John for having me jump in and out of your lives to document two personal and emotional events. I am grateful Mindy has inspired me and I will always carry a little bit of her soul with me as I continue onward.

I love you all.