LINUS: I don't know anything about-- 
SABRINA: Don't take a picture. Just look
LINUS: Ocean, ocean, ocean, ocean. Quaint little fishing village. Ocean, ocean. Lighthouse. Guy going into the lighthouse. [PAUSE] There's a job for you. What must that be like? What kind of a guy takes a job keeping a lighthouse? 
SABRINA: Every time I look through a camera, I'm surprised. Like finding yourself in the middle of a story, like you just did. What kind of a guy takes a job keeping a lighthouse?  [PAUSE] I think I've been taking pictures all my life... long before I ever had a camera. 

Forget the '90s romance, Harrison and that ridiculous bow tie, and even the polarizing nature of remaking a classic... this is the scene my heart skips a beat for. I've always been drawn to photography, likely instilled in me by parents who religiously subscribed to National Geographic Magazine and have a wide-ranging collection of cameras. But I remember distinctly the first time someone introduced this idea of asking the photograph: "what's your story?"

Laraine Wilkins was an old friend of my parents and the mother of my best friend growing up. She came to visit us in Houston once and we drove downtown to give her a taste of what Houston had to offer. She and I went to see a new black and white photography exhibit at the MFAH. I'm not sure where the rest of the family ended up... but somehow it was just the two of us in this gallery for several hours. She asked me why I liked photography and I couldn't tell her exactly. She turned to the first one and asked, "What's going on here?" I recounted all the technical aspects that made the photo brilliant, or what I would have done differently, I wondered what was just beyond the frame, etc. We laughed that my spacial reasoning scores on the SAT would likely be very high! But as we rounded a corner in the exhibit, she asked a different question: "who is this man? where is he going? is he in a hurry?"  I looked at the photo she stood beside and then I saw it. The two-tone and two-dimensions suddenly burst into life! I knew this man. I cared about him. I wanted him to make it to the train station where his wife was waiting, I saw them greet lovingly and happily after a long absence, I imagined their home and the smell of bread baking. I started to cry and took a seat at the ubiquitous museum bench. Laraine moved ahead and just left me there to feel this photo, this singular moment. I collected myself and silently thanked the photographer for her work in capturing a fleeting moment in a stranger's life that created a sacred moment in mine. 

Laraine died a few years after this and I never got to thank her for guiding me to find my own depth. I have such vivid memories of her laugh and every conversation we ever had. These are the things I wish I could download to some hard drive and share with the world. But, I - like so many others who've lost someone who really mattered to them - am left with only what technology can preserve.

Each of the photos used on this website was captured by me, unless otherwise attributed. They all have their own stories, some deeply personal and some absolutely hilarious. Please feel free to ask about them. One of these days I'll add a gallery and share some of their secrets. Until then, I'd imagine Laraine wanting to know what you see, what's the story you would tell about this photo?

Vanessa OlerComment