Here’s one of mine.
It was taken in March, 1953. The teacher had taken her class of kindergarten students to Kentucky’s Blue Grass Airport to watch the airplanes fly in and out. A photojournalist with the Lexington Herald took this picture as a feature for the newspaper.
Why is it one of my favorites? Because the teacher is my mother and it’s a great environmental portrait. My mother always loved children. Even when elderly and dementia prevented her from remembering familiar names or events, it was really not too surprising to walk into her room and find her singing or reciting a nursery rhyme to one or both of her very young great grandsons. So I like this photograph because Mom is surrounded by children and looking happy. It’s how I remember her looking at me as a child. And I think the photographer achieved what all great portrait photographers strive to achieve. He captured the essence or soul of his subject at that moment. For me, that renders this otherwise 1950’s era photograph timeless.
What else do I like about it? I like the leading lines of the fence and the kids hanging all over it. I like that the girls are closest to the teacher and smiling for the camera while the boys, for the most part, are climbing every which way at the end of the fence and just being boys. They’re a mess. I like the expressions on the girls’ faces and especially the shy grin on the girl closest to the camera. I like all the coats, hats, bobby socks, Oxford shoes and even my Mom’s shoes. I especially like that Mom is the only one pictured who is not wearing a hat, cap or scarf and her hair seems to be blowing freely in the wind. To me that’s symbolic of the relative freedom in her life at that time. Eight months later she would marry my dad and become a preacher’s wife. While many good things came of that, I think it’s fair to say her hair never blew quite as freely again.
Mom died in November 2014, but I still think of her often and always on August 10th. Today would be her 95th birthday. Yes, 95th. She was a little ahead of the curve in having a career first and then getting married and having children later in life. She was years ahead of Sheryl Sandberg who penned the bestseller Lean In. Look back at the photograph again. Mom is “leaning in.”
So … recently when attending a neighborhood happy hour social a new neighbor innocently asked, “What is your favorite photograph you’ve taken?” His question caught me off guard and all of a sudden I had that sinking feeling you get when you’re interviewing for a job and the interviewer asks you a wide open question just to see how you respond. It’s the “what’s your favorite book” question. After thinking about my neighbor’s question for a minute, I answered, “I really can’t say there’s one photograph I’ve taken that I like more than all the rest. Usually I have a group of favorites from each shoot, but there’s not one over-arching photograph I like better than all the rest.” He seemed disappointed and we moved on to other subjects.
I’ve been thinking about my neighbor’s question and my response from time to time since. In hindsight, I should have added, “but while I don’t have an all-time favorite photograph I’ve taken, I do have some favorite photographs – some I have taken and some others have taken. One of my favorite photographs is of my mother who I loved very much. One day in March 1953, a photojournalist I will never know took her picture …”
Do you have a favorite photograph? I ask only because I’ve learned it’s worth taking a little time to think about.