Memorial Day is a special day for many of us. We all know a loved one that served in the military, we may also know someone that didn’t make it back.
My father was in Vietnam. He was an infantry soldier and made it back safely to raise a family and have a happy life after his years of service in the military.
In his early 40’s he discovered that he had cancer, and despite all the best medicine he passed away at 46. I was in my senior year of college at the time, completing a 400 level large format project – my final photo project before graduation. I purchased a 4×5 Graflex Crown Graphic to take along to make my images. I was so proud of this battered old camera, and brought it to the hospital to show my dad while he was having treatment.
My dad was a photographer himself, and he bought me my first camera. He supported my journey as I learned about the craft, made pictures, and started shaping what would be a lifelong career that in some way is supported by photography.
I turned 46 this year. So I have been thinking a lot about my dad.
This year on Memorial Day weekend I decided to take this old Crown out to the National Cemetery in Danville, IL. I haven’t made photos with this camera in years, and it showed. It was a bit like riding a bike while at the same time finding the familiar controls once again.
I made four different images, using 10 sheets of 4×5 film in about two hours of shooting. It was nice to shoot large format. Each shot means so much. It is completely different way of thinking in photography than shooting in smaller formats with more exposures on the roll to shoot with.
There are moments of serendipity that we cannot explain. I was gravitated to a row of flags next to an old maple tree. I set up on one flag in particular, framed my photo and made the exposure. I went around to the marker to read the name, and discovered that this soldier died on my birthday in 1939. It was as if I was meant to be there.
(click on thumbnails to see full images)
The day was somber. The sun ducked in and out of puffy white clouds. I could hear the distinct sound of large flags cracking in the wind. Visions of green grass, blue skies, white tombstones and red white and blue. Military families with flowers, men wearing service honors on ball caps. Couples holding hands over graves, small kids in parent’s arms. Every soldier honored with a flag. It was a nice day to remember my dad, and remember those that served for us.