This morning began with the kind of telephone call you never want to receive.
During the still dark hours of morning today, my wife Jennifer and I were shocked and heartbroken to learn that this great man, Robert Brewer, left us during the night.
Bob was my grandfather-in-law. I've known Bob now for more than a decade. In that time, the more I got to know him, the more I admired and loved him. That doesn't make me too different than anyone else who ever met him. As a U.S. Navy sailor and officer, I was first intrigued by his history with the Navy. He enlisted at the age of 17 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As that war drew to a close and the United States and her allies were closing in on Japan, Bob's ship, USS TERROR (CM-5) was attacked by a Kamikaze on May 1, 1945. Bob cheated death that day, and thank goodness that he did, because I couldn't have met or married my wife, without that historical twist of fate.
Throughout his life Bob blessed and enriched those in the world around him. He was the best husband, father, and grandfather his family members could have hoped for him to be. Every single one of them hit the jackpot.
It was only in the past couple of years that I managed to sit him down in front of my camera, first in my studio when he was visiting for Thanksgiving on November 27, 2015, then at his home in Michigan on March 31, 2016, and for one final time again on February 2, 2017 in my studio.
Canadian photographer Dave Brosha observed in a session I took with him on September 29, 2016, that we photographers spend our lives photographing people we barely know. We travel the world to photograph these people. They pay us good money to do what we do for them. We educate our clients about the importance of photographs to the legacy they will leave behind for future generations. Ironically, at the same time, we professional photographers are terrible about doing this for the people who matter most to us. Dave shared that he recognized this too late. Upon his father's passing, he realized that the only photograph he had taken of his father, was a photograph he'd taken with his cell phone while his father laid in a hospital bed connected to tubes and wires. Dave warned us not to make the same mistake.
I'd already photographed two sessions with Bob, one in my studio, one in his home with many of his Navy mementos. But this story stuck in my mind and I knew I had to get more, so when he was planning to visit last February I asked him if I could photograph him in my studio again, and if he would bring some of his Navy uniform items.
Other than our family portrait on Pawleys Island this summer, and some iPhone pictures of him since, unbeknownst to me at the time, this would be the last time I would photograph Bob.
After my second session with him, the one at his home, I heard through my father-in-law that Bob really didn't like the serious portraits I'd taken of him. It's not how he saw himself. I explained to him my vision and concept and emotional feel I was after in some of these serious portraits. He explained that he likes to smile and make others smile. So in this, my last session with him, I struck a deal with him, that if he'd give me some of these serious shots I was after, I promised I'd also take the ones he wanted with direct eye contact and smiles.
This is the way Bob was, how he most wanted to be remembered. This portrait is from the 8th to last frame I ever took of him in my studio. As I look at it tonight I am both smiling and heartbroken. I'm smiling because of that contagious smile he had, the vitality and life that was right here, only tens of feet from where I'm writing this. And I'm heartbroken now that he's gone.
What will keep me smiling more as time goes on, is a bit of wisdom I heard last week from Kentucky portrait photographer Tim Walden during the Maryland Professional Photographers Association convention, that is, that these photographs had their least value at the time that I photographed them, and at the time I produced the first few from this session, but with the passage of time, and especially on the occasion of Bob's passing, they mean more than ever, and they will only increase in value to me and Bob's family and friends as the days, weeks, months, and years pass since the last time we can say we had him here with us on this earth.
May God bless Robert Brewer. He lived a good life. He lived it well. And he left the world and those around him, better than they were before him.
Fair winds and following seas shipmate. We love you, we miss you, and our hearts ache without you here, but we are forever grateful for having known you. . . . And boy am I going to miss that turkey gobbling calling this coming Thanksgiving, and every other one I shall ever have.
Robert Brewer, 91, January 19, 1927- February 10, 2018.
1/160 sec at f/9, ISO 160Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 165mm
I hope you enjoy today's J.W. Remington Photographics' Photo of the Day for February 10, 2018!
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