Parting Shots to Last a Lifetime

Western Washington University here in Bellingham welcomed back its 14,000 students this week as classes for the fall quarter got underway.  Hundreds of students, faculty and staff, led by WWU President Sabah Randwana, walked together from the hilltop campus to downtown for the Paint B’Ham Blue celebration, now in its second year. But before the evening procession, students and parents went through their own ritual of saying good-by to one another.

My son, center, was busily making new friends before the traditional procession through the streets of the campus and too busy to notice that I was capturing the moment.

A week or two earlier, I watched as my neighbor’s son packed his car up to head back to college and as his parents followed as he pulled out the drive, his mother, camera in hand, snapping a few last photos as he drove off.  I was enjoying the moment and reliving in my own mind the same experience when my own sons left home and I said good-by knowing that life at home would never be the same.

Like my neighbors, I too snapped photos of my sons as they either packed up, unpacked or departed for their years away at college.  With each one, the last good-by was a little different and full of mixed emotions.  I’m sure those of you who’ve had children can vividly recall that day of departure, whether it was heading off to college or to living on their own.

During a visit to University of Oregon, my son Matthew consented to a photo at the main gate of the campus. Doesn’t he look thrilled? Still, I love this photo.

I’m glad to have the photos I took on those memorable days.  When I look back at them, the memories come rushing back as fresh as the day it happened.  Those snapshots give me a tangible tie to that moment in time and I was heartened to see my neighbor going through the same motions that I had gone through 10 years ago.  I first wrote about those good-byes four years ago in my blog post “Autumn’s First Day Moves In.”

Before moving in to his dorm behind him, Marshall let me grab this photo of him, suitcase in hand.

No doubt my sons were a little embarrassed by their mother clicking away when they arrived on campus although I certainly was not alone in insisting I take one more photo before leaving them. It is heartening to me to see parents still repeating those same actions, capturing images, now on their phones as well as with cameras, so that they’ll have them to look back upon later.  I hope they download and print out these precious memories so that they’ll truly have them forever and not lose them to a mishap with the ‘cloud’ or computer or phone.  If they do, they’ll have them for their sons or daughters long after college graduation.

I am grateful to my sons who allowed me, and continue to allow me, to photograph them during these life events and everyday moments, particularly at times when it might not otherwise have seemed ‘cool’ to do so.

My son indulged me in a photo together before we said good-by on his college move-in day.

Every fall, when I watch the new students and their parents arrive at the neighboring university, their cars pulling one after another into the dormitory parking lots, the boxes and duffles and suitcases being carried up to the rooms where they will live for the next several months, I am genuinely pleased as parents pose their freshman for one last parting shot so that they too will have the image to reflect upon when they go home alone.  The scene brings a small smile to my face, a tiny tear to my eye and the tug on my heart.

 

Graduating My Assistant

Every year about this time I get a little sad.  That’s because it’s graduation time for many high school and college students. To be sure, they deserve to celebrate their years of hard work and accomplishment. But for me, the celebration is bittersweet when I have to say “Good-by” to my studio assistant.  I haven’t had to do this for three years so I guess I should be grateful. Still, I got a little teary-eyed when I said farewell and best wishes to my studio assistant, Megan Marler, on Thursday .

Megan graduated with honors from Western Washington University (WWU) this week with a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology.  She headed out-of-town early Friday morning for a road trip to her home back in Colorado where she will soon be married on July 5.  I can hardly believe that it’s been a little more than three years since she first contacted me about the possibility of working with me as my assistant.

Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.
Megan is usually behind the camera with me, not in front, having worked for the past three years as my studio assistant.

I was pretty impressed with Megan right from the beginning. She ‘cold-contacted’ me about working me after searching out my information on-line. She already had worked in the studio of a Colorado photographer. It so happened that my previous studio assistant, also a Western student, had just recently graduated and moved back to her home in Indonesia, when Megan contacted me.  The timing couldn’t have been better.  Megan hadn’t yet arrived in town but we set up a time to meet once she got here.

Although she had an interest in photography, she planned to pursue an education that would lead her to physical therapy or something similar. I don’t remember now how it was she came to enroll at WWU, but I’m glad she did.  It didn’t take her long to settle into student life here.  She quickly made the university’s women’s crew team. (I was thrilled to learn this, having covered rowing at the 1984 Olympics for TIME Magazine.) Her height, six-foot, and strength clearly gave her an advantage, both in rowing and as my assistant. I jokingly tell my clients when we’re on location with my assistant that they are my ‘human light stand’. But it’s hard work as they must hold and position my reflectors in order to place my light just as I want it on my subject. Sometimes they are standing in the weeds, in the water or on the rocks just out of my camera’s view, but close enough so that I get the light I want. Megan learned quickly and was often able to anticipate exactly where I’d like her to go before I even directed her.

Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.
Megan, who graduated with honors from WWU, shows off her diploma on the Western commons.

She excelled on campus in her classes and on the row team. Her classload wasn’t ever light but she managed to do well in them all. At the same time, she was up every weekday, on the water and ready to practice with Western’s crew team by six a.m.  It didn’t take long for this inexperienced rower to make the varsity eight-woman boat. WWU’s women’s crew team is nationally regarded and they prove it year after year by having been selected to compete in the NCAA Division II National Rowing Championships 13 years straight.  They won the national title seven consecutive years from 2005 to 2011. Megan was on the team that represented WWU in 2013 and 2014, and went with them to Nationals in 2014 to win third.  The team wasn’t chosen to go to this year’s Nationals. But Megan, and four others of her teammates, were named National Scholar Athletes by the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association.

Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU's women's varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.
Megan sits second from the right in this photo of WWU’s women’s varsity eight crew competing at the Pacific Conference Rowing Championships earlier this spring. The photo is taken from the WWU website.

Besides being on the crew team, Megan somehow found time to help coach a local girls select soccer team, stay active in her church and ‘job shadow’ with a local physical therapist. I have every confidence that she’ll continue to do well no matter what path she chooses to take in the life ahead of her. I will miss her big smile, conscientious work ethic, attentiveness to detail and cheery outlook every time she stepped through my studio door. I’m proud to have had her alongside me for countless photo sessions and in the studio doing work for me far below her skill level without complaint. I’m sorry to see her go, but at the same time excited to see where she goes next. Congratulations, Megan!

In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!
In the traditional manner, Megan gives hers graduation cap the celebratory toss!

 

Autumn’s First Day Moves In

Today is the first day of autumn.  It’s also ‘Move In Day’ at Western Washington University for the university’s 15,000 students.  Ninety-two percent of the incoming freshman will spend the next school year in residence at the dorms.  On this day, parents and their students descend upon the university campus in vans, SUVs and station wagons stuffed to capacity with pillows, towels, rugs, desk chairs, DVDs, computers, whatever it takes to make their assigned dorm room feel like home.  Neighboring streets are jammed with the traffic as everyone waits their turn to pull into the nearest dorm parking lot to quickly unload their belongings in the allotted 20 minutes.  Western students wearing T-shirts printed with the word ‘HELP’ are strategically posted around campus in order to direct both students and parents to their intended destinations.

My youngest son kindly granted my request for a quick shot of him in front of his new home during 'Move In Day' at his university.
My youngest son kindly granted my request for a quick shot of him in front of his new home during ‘Move In Day’ at his university.

It’s a day full of emotion for both.  Emotions to which I can readily relate having gone through this ritual myself with my own three sons.  Any parent who’s ever taken their son or daughter to college can recall that day in considerable detail.  There’s the excitement of seeing your student off to a new adventure, one which many of us probably embarked upon ourselves.  But it can be bittersweet to say good-by and head back home minus that young woman or young man who spent the first 18 years living with the family.  It’s a period of adjustment for everyone.

As I look back, my memory of that day for each of my sons comes back into sharp focus.  They each started off alone, at different schools, in different states in locations where they had no immediate family.  The experience for each of them, while similar, was also different.  Two of them flew off on airplanes to their college cities, taking with them whatever they could pack into their duffle bags and my extra suitcase.  One loaded up a moving truck to the max with whatever furniture we could spare as well as his own bedroom furniture so he could furnish the little apartment he had rented for himself off-campus.  Upon his departure, I climbed the stairs of our home to the second flor and went into what had been his bedroom.  It was empty except for one barren bookcase and a pile of dirt that had been swept to the middle of the room’s wooden floor.  That’s when I realized that he was truly gone and the tears welled in my eyes.

With his things finally unpacked and his Washington State flag pinned up on the wall, my son could sit down at his desk and phone home to his father.
With his things finally unpacked and his Washington State flag pinned up on the wall, my son could sit down at his desk and phone home to his father.

Yet it’s a happy time too as memories of your own college experiences come rushing back.  I’m sure it was just as hard for my parents to say good-by to me as it was for me to see my sons leave.  I don’t remember that, of course.  All I recall was the thrill of finally being out in the world on my own, of trying out new things, of making new friends and of getting a pretty good education along the way.  College is a bridge between the known and the unknown.  Crossing it is a big deal, for everyone.

I remember the last thing my oldest son said  before hopping into the rental truck and driving off to his university. He turned around, took a long final look at our house as if committing every detail to memory, and said aloud almost exactly what had been running through my own mind:  ‘So this won’t be my home anymore.’

I grabbed one final picture just as my son and husband were about to close up and head off to my son's college.
I grabbed one final picture just as my son and husband were about to close up and head off to my son’s college.

He later learned that wasn’t exactly true. He could always call our house ‘home’, but from that moment on, it would never be quite the same.   He was growing up, about to find his own way and to learn to live and lead his own life apart from ours.  Now, years later, as I watch the students and parents at WWU unload their cars, stroll together through the campus one last time before hugging each other and going their separate ways, I smile knowingly.  And as I pass by them, a tear or two still comes to my eye.

Two of my sons head off together, ready to conquer the school and the world on 'Move In Day' at the University of Oregon.
Two of my sons head off together, ready to conquer the school and the world on ‘Move In Day’
at the University of Oregon.

First Day

This morning, a friend called up the picture on her phone of her granddaughter, posed before the front door, backpack on and book in hand, as she was about to leave for her ‘first day.’  For many of us who live on the West Coast, the first day of school was today.

It can be difficult to go back to class when it’s still so gorgeous outdoors in a place like ours  where the summers are so short.  Not like many other locations elsewhere in the United States where going into a cooled classroom might provide welcome relief from the heat of the season.  First Day at Calahan

With the start of each school year, I always made, as do many parents, a visual record of the day by snapping a picture of my sons as they headed out the door or were about to enter the school with their lunchboxes and books.  In my own experience, I found that the hardest of these notable days was the first day of kindergarten for my oldest son and my youngest son, and the last first day of high school for my youngest son, Tim. When they take that step across the threshold of the school door, you know that life will never be the same for either of you.  As a parent, it’s both a proud and poignant moment. 

 

I joined the many moms and dads before me (including my own) to capture a ‘Kodak moment’ of that milestone day.  Being the sons of a photographer, even while I was still working as a full-time journalist, my boys knew better than to try to dissuade me from this annual ritual.   First Day at LowellAs elementary students, they were often happy to share in the fun with a picture together with their brothers going out our door, beside the car or in front of the school.  That spirit of cooperation grew less enthusiastic as they entered their middle school years.  Forget about posing anywhere near the school where friends could see them.  All the ‘first day photos’ from those years were taken at home.  By the time they reached high school, they were at least resigned to the fact that it was better to humor me than to resist.  And I had learned by this time to be satisfied by quickly shooting the annual picture on the fly, like paparazzi stalking their celebrities, just as they were about to head off.First Day at Sehome

Even that initial day at college did not go undocumented.  Although it may not have been the actual first day of classes, I managed to snag a few shots of each of them on campus before my husband and I bid them a tearful but joyful good-by and good luck.  To me, that special day was as worth keeping for posterity as was any graduation day.  It captures the beginning, not the end of a life event.  I think there’s a richness of emotions of that day that you can look back upon later.  Uncertainty, excitement, confidence, even a little presumptuousness about the journey on which they are about to embark.First  Day of College

Now that they have all moved on and, for the most part, moved out, I look back fondly on this first day of school as I see other parents taking part in the same yearly ritual.   I smiled quietly, thinking of my own sons ‘first days’,  preserved on film (digital wasn’t yet around) that now bring back a flood of warm and bittersweet memories.

At the risk of totally embarrassing my youngest son, I thought I’d share some of my personal ‘First Day’ photos  for you to enjoy.  Maybe you’ll share a few back.