It was well past his bed time, but that didn’t matter to him or me. Somewhat unusually, my son Ketan and I started to watch television documentary a couple of night’s back.
The submarines in the deep blue ocean had both of us hypnotized. Moving gracefully and carefully from one section of the ship to the next was a robot. Ketan’s jaw dropped. Boys will be boys, right? The guys in the submarine were ecstatic on what that camera on the robot was sending them back visually. Not fully realizing what was going on, my son laughed too.
Then came the animations and talk of an iceberg, a collision and the ultimate sinking of a ship. The tone changed and I could see a shift in Ketan’s body language. He nuzzled up to me, looked at my face for approval and then returned his gaze back to the television.
On April 15, 1912, a 100 years ago in a few days, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg and sank; finding its final resting place two and a half miles deep. 1,514 people died in that tragedy.
Please watch this clip from the documentary:
Bill Sauder is not a photographer. His name probably won’t ring any bells unless you watched the recent National Geographic special on the Titanic. He is the Director of Research for RMS Titanic, Inc. and has worked closely with James Cameron, the movie director behind the movie “Titanic.”
What struck me most about Mr. Sauder was how, even as he was breaking down in that clip, he was so very clearly able to articulate his ‘WHY’ – his reason for doing what he loves to do. His dedication to the Titanic project, was less about the stuff that could be brought up to the surface and more about the people behind those things.
He says that upon opening those perfume vials found on the Titanic, “… for those few minutes, the ship was alive again.”
As photographers, I feel there is a valuable lesson here. Speaking for myself, I know I am not a photographer to create tchotchkes for people, but to tell their stories through images that they can treasure. For me, like for Mr. Sauder, photography will always be about the human condition – who we are, how we relate to each other and what we find important to celebrate as a global community.
Even for Director James Cameron, the pitch he made to the Hollywood producers was simple and effective – “Romeo and Juliet on a boat that sinks.” It was about a love story and the tragedy that befell the people on the ship. If you think about it, the ship itself is really a backdrop in the movie. We are more interested in the people – their mannerism, the class structure or distinction and their social sensibilities. Sure the movie is a bit much in some spots, but there is a reason why it was the biggest grossing film for 12 years, not to mention the first movie to surpass the $1 billion mark in ticket sales worldwide. There is power in telling stories. There is even more power in telling people’s stories.
The tangible products we produce need to be of such quality that a 100 years or more from now, people looking at them or feeling them in their hands can think about the people behind them. I want my client’s future families to relive moments that they may or may not have experienced themselves. For the images to be truly successful, they must help reconnect them to their parents, grandparents, uncle, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. To be the one to create this artifact, no, family heirloom, is such a huge honor and a responsibility for us photographers. What’s more, there is no way of telling what real impact those images may have down the road.
When I watched the documentary with my 4 year old son, I couldn’t help get a little choked up too when I heard Mr. Sauder describe those perfume vials. For Mr. Sauder, it’s a sense of smell that reconnects him to the people on that ship.
I had to ask myself, when my clients receive their prints or albums, do they experience that fragrance of heaven too? Isn’t that what they truly deserve? Should we not take the time to educate our clients about the work we do, why we do it and how they will be remembered and celebrated? I think we owe them that much.
Sound off below to tell us what you thought of the clip above or whether you know your WHY. In all honesty, I haven’t fully defined mine yet but this book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why, is helping me get there. It’s an interesting journey.