Last month I was at an art opening and I was talking with a friend who was one of the artists in the show. A friend and artist who I respect both personally and professionally. We started to have a conversation about how busy life is and I mentioned that I was going to start scaling back on the amount of fine art work I produce. That I need a better balance in life. I never said I was going to quit, only slow down and spend more time with the family. I mentioned watching old movies recently from about 46-47 years ago when I was a toddler and we had a huge extended family BBQ in our backyard. We don't do that anymore. Our families have become so compartmentalized and we rarely meet in such grand fashion as my family once did a long time ago with grandma, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
This conversation lead to my friend, maybe out of concern about my statement of slowing way down with my art, saying “Bill, your photographs will be your legacy. You need to continue to produce work”. I replied that I always saw my legacy being my children and how they grew into adults. This simple but monumental word, “legacy” has really got my mind churning since that conversation.
I struggle with my work being my legacy. I understand it and my ego would sort of enjoy it but as I began to dissect this concept more deeply, my basic concept of my legacy hasn't changed but has broadened. In the true definition of the word, yes my personal possessions are my legacy but when I think of legacy I think of all the things that are not as easy to measure as an object of mass is. So what is or do I hope my legacy to be?
Positive memories of activities that resulted in beautiful connections, discoveries, and humanity. Not the grandiose adventures that require extensive resources but the small little gestures that warm ones heart, make someone know you care, extend a hand to someone in need. In need of a reminder of how beautiful they are, how much they matter, how much you enjoy being in their company.
I'm reminded of the walks I've taken with my wife, the way my heart swells when I see the love connection my wife has with the kids, the hours of conversations while teaching my three kids how to drive, The bike rides, the hugs when life throws you a curve, doing the dishes, the laundry, and just providing a listening ear. Walking on the beach with my grandson or when he cups his hands under my chin or gently presses them against my face and says “beard”. A moment in time that I hope builds within his own mind a legacy of Papa. All the intimate conversations with my mom, most recently our trip to Kenosha and our long scenic drive back to Milwaukee. What do these moments in time create? Lasting memories of loving moments of time commitments and relationships. For me, my dad's legacy isn't anything physical he left behind but the calm, quiet but strong presence he provided. You always knew that things would turn out OK. He had that effect on people.
Yes, my photographs can be a conduit to many great moments and maybe that is what was meant by her comment. My art has allowd me to be around many wonderful, original, and caring individuals who make up much of the art community. Lately the end result of my photography has been portraits but the portraits are just a disguise for great stories. Great stories of brave, beautiful, and caring individuals who took a little bit of time out of their very busy lives to share their awesomeness with me. Many of these people have become my friends. It's the connections that matter. Positive connections lifting people up and showing that in this mad world we live in, they matter. Their physical presence, their sharing of the most valuable resource – time, and their ability to communicate both verbally and physically in a very intimate way. That will be the legacy of so many awesome individuals who graced my studio and camera with their presence. I guess if the photographs I leave behind create a tangible connection to the humanity we are all capable of, then I hope that they do become a part of my legacy. In the end, I guess it's not up to us to decide. Our actions and those still around to remember those actions will create our lasting legacy. I'd love to hear what you hope your own legacy to be.