↑ Small, wallet size darkroom print to keep around.

Take the photo while you still can

The right moment to take a photo of a loved one is right now. Tomorrow it might be too late. You never know when you’re going to lose someone. Besides memories, what will you have left when the time comes? 

I encountered a great loss few days ago when my dog Raiku lost his battle against aggressive prostate cancer. He was eleven and a half years old Finnish Lapphund. His life was cut short as Lapphunds typically live easily 15—16 years. He was especially dear to me and his suffering was just as painful to witness, as it was no doubt to experience.

Four years ago (2016) I lost another dog, Saaga. She was 15 when she died. Incidentally, her death drew me back to film photography, because all her puppy photos were shot on film in the early 2000’s. When I found the photos, I stumbled upon my old cameras (Canon AE-1 and Canon T70) at the same time. I was relieved to realise that the old photos were still completely safe after all these years, as opposed to my early digital photos, that are already lost for the most part. Back then in 2016, this realisation was a major reason why I started to shoot film again.

Among street photography and related projects, taking photos at home has always felt like the most important thing that I could do with the camera. In a way, I feel that I take street photographs for other people and the photos at home are just for me. It might not seem important to take photos at home at the time, but believe me, as time passes by, they’ll be the most important photos you ever took. The true meaning of a photograph will unfold over time. After losing Saaga, I’ve really made an effort in making sure that I have good photos of the things I love. I want to take good photos of the things I know I’ll be missing one day. 

Raiku was a young dog in 2016 when Saaga passed away, but of course it was a good reminder that dogs generally live unfairly short life compared to humans. I expected Raiku to live much longer. His time came way too early. The sad fact is I’ll have to live the rest of my life without his companion. It feels unbearable. Photos help me to cope. But what good is a photo that I can’t look when my smartphone runs out of battery? Somehow I find more comforting to have an actual photograph in my pocket.

There’s no way of telling when it’s the last chance to take the photo of someone. I’ve taken dozens of photos of Raiku. Little did I know, that the ones I took last month, were one of the last ones. It is important to me to shoot on film, because the negatives will have a very good chance of surviving the upcoming decades. I won’t have to worry about backups or future technologies. The photos simply keep existing as long as I don’t lose them. (I do have plenty of surviving digital photos too, dating back 15 years and nothing stops me from making prints out of them and putting them on my album. Just how archival the digital prints will be, I don’t know, but I’m certainly happy that I have digital photos of him as well.)

I’m continuing my life without a dear friend. I have his collar, leash, few other items, my memories and his photos. My memory will no doubt fade over time and his collar is merely a belonging, not anything that would remind me how he actually looked. Photos are the only thing that can preserve it.

Right now I feel sad, empty and broken. At the same time I’m thankful beyond belief, of the precious times we were allowed to have together. I’m happy that I’m able to pull his photo from my wallet when ever I need to see his beautiful smile and kind eyes again — whether it’s tomorrow or fifty years from now.