above: My Dad © Bret Doss All Rights Reserved
The image of my Dad was made many years ago, a few weeks after finishing my first workshop with Don Giannatti. This was the workshop to which I brought the SB800 speedlight I had received as a Christmas gift. I had no idea how to even change it to manual mode, much less how to do any off-camera lighting. After a weekend with Don, I had a few different lighting setups in my toolbox. I ordered an umbrella, reflector, and light stand for my brother so that (a) I could teach him what Don had taught me, and (b) so I could use it to take portraits of my parents during the upcoming visit.
Dad never much liked having his picture taken, and I knew I had to get this set up, tested, and dialed in, since I probably would have only a couple of minutes to photograph him. My brother sat in to test, and Dad watched the process with interest. I used a single speed-light with shoot-thru umbrella on camera left, a reflector on the right, and a white foam core in his lap, angled up.
Dad was extra cooperative since the Official Story was that this was to Help Me Learn. My five year old (at the time) niece sat on the floor just to camera left, and kept saying in a loud voice “MY-ull! MY-ull!” (her best pronunciation of “smile”). We were all laughing so hard that my Dad could not help but smile for the shots.
It turned out to be the best photograph ever made of him, capturing his natural smile, with the twinkle in his eyes.
When my Dad passed in May last year, I gave small prints of this image to friends and family at the funeral. Everyone noted that it captured his mild mannered good humor.
If I had never picked up a camera again, at least I would have this image.
And Don taught me how to do it. No adequate “thank you” exists.
Dad worked hard in his final days to complete and submit the manuscript for what had become his last mystery novel. Within days of the funeral, I reviewed the proofreader’s comments well into the night, and then a while later reviewed the typeset manuscript. I offered the image to St. Martin’s Press, and they used it both for web promotion and the dust jacket. Though it was late in the layout process, in his honor they moved the image from the normal rear inner flap to a larger area on the back cover. My Dad’s final novel was published last fall.
After his passing, I wondered what might happen with my photography: would it change, would I lose interest, would I become unable to ‘see’ in the same ways as before…. Last fall, I went out to photograph the glorious color of the season. Nothing was really working or connecting, there was just no ‘flow’ until I looked down and saw this fallen leaf–it was overwhelming:
I spent most of my photographic energy during the fall looking down, finding the Fallen ones, a very personal, ongoing project.
Miss you every day, Dad.
Every day. . . .
all images/content © Bret Doss, all rights reserved