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Life Before Your Eyes

Pictory members share their deepest, brightest, darkest, and most meaningful photos.

You can’t begin to tell the story behind your most meaningful image without putting your innermost feelings on display for the world to see.” Rob Gardiner, who wrote the third photo story in this series, put it perfectly. I am grateful for and unspeakably moved by the submissions to this theme. Many contributors expressed a catharsis in writing them. Tears fell; buried memories, the contraband of the heart and mind, resurfaced. This ties in perfectly with one of my major goals for Pictory, to encourage art therapy for anyone. To help everyone — from occasional viewers to regular submitters — reflect on their own experiences with new clarity.

Someone once asked me what the “two-percent” moments of my life were. The rare moments that would make it into a movie biography, or flash before my eyes as I pass. Not the mundane hours that would end up on the proverbial cutting room floor, but the few glowing or tragic memories that I won't and can't forget. I didn't have a very good answer. I got stuck trying to count my modest successes instead of remembering the events that mattered. I wish you luck in remembering your most significant moments while viewing these relatable stories of unfamiliar faces.

January 6, 2010

Intro by Laura Brunow Miner

Guest design by Ryan Sims

Editing assistance from Kate Lorenz

Funny Face

Funny Face

My grandmother had always been the one to show us kids love and affection, while my quiet (and slightly grumpy) grandfather preferred to sit in his chair and keep to himself. We knew all along that he loved us, but it just wasn’t in his nature to express his feelings. When he lost my grandmother, his wife of 70 years, we started to notice a softer side. He’s still grumpy at times — but now when we say goodbye we can see that he’s sad we are going, while before he would have silently stayed in his chair. A week ago he even told me that he loved me.

Photographer: Magera Holton

I am a designer based in San Francisco, but Austin will always be home.

He Remembers You

He Remembers You

I took the long trip to see my ailing grandfather to try to get an image that would describe him, and the unnameable something he passed on to my father and me. Rumor had it that his mind and body were slipping, so I had planned to take a striking photo of a man who no longer recognized me. Instead I was given the gift of recognition. There he was, his old mischief, his sunken wisdom. What’s more, I saw my own father know that for the first time in more than a year, he was remembered by his father. It was a momentary thing. Me watching my father, my father watching his, and his father sharing a stare with his son and the old Olympus lens that makes the fleeting permanent.

Photographer: Robert Josiah Bingaman

Robert is an artist living in Kansas City, America.

Lost Time

Lost Time

You can’t begin to tell the story behind your most meaningful image without putting your innermost feelings on display for the world to see. Even as I write, I have not yet decided if anyone will ever see this. Grief is a lonely emotion. After my mother lost her battle with cancer at 42 years of age, my father seemed to find some measure of comfort in alcohol. He did his best to keep life moving forward for his children, but as his oldest son, I had more weight on my shoulders than I could handle. Or maybe I never dealt with my own loss. Either way, things turned nasty one night and I hurt him both physically and mentally. Eight years went by before we saw each other again. We’ve never discussed that night, and I don’t think we ever will, but we’ve been able to rebuild our relationship even so. My little boy arrived in March this year and whenever my father is back in Ireland we use his grandchild as an excuse to get together. My dad was taken into the hospital yesterday, and I thought of my regret for the night we fought, the eight lost years, and all the things that have gone unsaid. This may not be my best photograph (and I pray it is not the last I take of Dad), but I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to take it.

This image was taken with a Canon EOS 40D.

Photographer: Rob Gardiner

I am a freelance aerospace engineer based in Belfast, Northern Ireland but currently working in the Isle of Man. I have enjoyed photography for several years and hope to continue to do so in the future.

Path Retraced

Path Retraced

My husband Raven introduced me to Linda shortly before her death. It was the first time in about 18 years that he and his estranged mother had seen one another. Two months later, Linda died peacefully in her sleep from a heart condition that she had hidden even from her five siblings. I took this photo while Raven sat in his mother’s apartment, alone for the first time since her death. Her funeral reunited Raven with the rest of his estranged family — the most normal and most genuine group I have ever known — and they took him back with open arms.

Photographer: Mona T. Brooks

I am a documentary photographer in San Francisco with what might be the biggest laugh in the whole wide world. I feed off being around people and have a story to tell about every image I have taken. Don’t take me too seriously because I don’t.

Lucky Seventh

Lucky Seventh

Decades ago, my parents secured emigration to America for the family — and then I was born. The seventh child, the mistake. My parents were faced with a difficult decision: take this rare opportunity to leave for America and in doing so, leave me to be raised by relatives; or redo the paperwork and risk things not working out. My father decided that we would stay together as a complete family, and we made the move, eventually settling in San Francisco. In December 2003, my brother and I returned to our birthplace (just south of Saigon, Vietnam) for the first time. This scene of him with our relatives reflects our return and reconnection with the land and people we’d heard so much about — but it also speaks to what could have been. Had things been different, this photo would have represented a brother’s return across distance, culture, and the passing of 20 years to meet his sister, the seventh child, the one who was left behind.

This image was taken with a Canon PowerShot S400.

Photographer: Ngoc Du

I live in San Francisco, where I take photos and dream of the next travel adventure.

Portrait of a Youth

Portrait of a Youth

By the time my sister was in grade school, I had already left for college. Our 14 year age difference meant we were never as close as I would have liked. But this photo — taken one summer break when we stumbled upon a stash of old prom dresses in the basement — reminds me that while I may have missed most of her childhood, I was there for that afternoon. I recently showed this picture to my sister on her sixteenth birthday and was overjoyed to hear her say, “I remember that day!”

Photographer: Jeni Pulliam

I am a teacher by day — and artist at heart — located in the Midwest.

Dear @Pictory:

It may be silly, but the day I realised I could buy any soda I wanted was a very exciting day for me (as a new adult).”

Different and Normal

Different and Normal

I had taken hundreds of pictures of my son Ulysses, but in every one I hid something about him. I couldn’t stand to document the thing on his belly that showed he was not “normal”. Since he suffered from Costello syndrome, a very rare genetic disorder, he needed this gastrostomy button to survive. I hadn’t planned to take this photo and it surprised me. It didn’t hurt like I had thought it would — I saw just my son as he was: a beautiful, funny, little man very interested in life around him, just like any other child his age. Different and normal at the same time.

Photographer: Anahita Avalos

Anahita lives in Villahermosa, Mexico.

Personal Victory

Personal Victory

Our youngest son crashed into our lives with a bang — and unexpected medical issues. Some didn’t think he’d make it. Getting him home meant plenty of tubes (and bells and whistles) and round-the-clock care. This portrait was taken the day he learned to sit up unaided. He was so proud of himself, but dared not show too much excitement or his precarious position would have been compromised. Today all that remains of those hardships are his scars and our memories, but I hope that the strength and determination he exemplified in his first days stick with him for life.

Photographer: Suzanne Upton
Dear @Pictory:

The doctor said ‘here’s baby letter A’ and 30 seconds later ‘and… baby letter B’ and I nearly fainted.”

Brighter Side of Darkness

Brighter Side of Darkness

As a swimmer and underwater photographer, I spent the first few months of my pregnancy planning an underwater self portrait — but life doesn’t always follow a plan. Instead I got this photograph of myself bald and oddly happy, wearing a prayer shawl made for me by a local church group of kind strangers. This image marks the day I was able to stand again. Five months into my pregnancy, debilitating sciatic pain led my husband and I to the ER where I was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I had a tumor wrapping around my sciatic nerve and boring a hole into my pelvic bone. At the same time that the best and lightest parts of me were growing within me in the form of my son, I fed and nurtured a fetus of my own shadow. These two masses — one of light and one of darkness — were side by side, and on November 21, 2005, they were the same size. My chemotherapy treatment began immediately and we were reassured that my son, Finn, would be just fine. I soon recognized that I had been given a second chance to live right, in that cancer gave me a reason to skip out on the activities I had been a slave to. From that moment on, my tumor shrank and my son grew. I took a beating that year, but I learned to walk in a new way, and today, mother and son are both healthy and happy.

Photographer: Heather Perry

Heather is an underwater photographer, swimmer, painter, wife, and mother who lives, works, and dreams in Bath, Maine.

Gone but not Forgotten

Gone but not Forgotten

I was a few months pregnant and just starting to get my head around the idea that my partner and I were going to start our own little family when I received a devastating phone call saying that he had been killed. I was paralyzed with grief when it came time to sort through his belongings, and kept only one thing: his old army dog tags. I knew that they had been worn close to his heart through some of his best and worst times, and I could feel his spirit in them. I wore his dog tags throughout my pregnancy and labor, and now they hang over my son’s cot where he can touch them everyday and feel a little bit of the father he will never know.

Photographer: Tarnya Hall

I am a single mother to Thomas, the most photographed baby on the planet. We are currently staying with family in Brisbane, Australia, while we find our place in the world.

The Few, The Proud

The Few, The Proud

The Marine Corps boot camp graduation ceremony in San Diego was awe-inspiring throughout, but when the troops fell out and ran towards each other at the end, none of us could catch our breath. It was a beautiful display of love, of change and remembrance, of fear and joy. Here, the new Marines had just been released to see their families. At that moment, I realized that the tough times I was struggling with didn’t matter compared to this bigger picture — and became aware of just how much I loved my brother, even though we had never really gotten along. Six months later I packed up for California in my own move of change and fear and joy. This picture has served to remind me of a beautiful person in my life who transformed himself for the greater good, and who continues to grow even through the hardest times.

This image was taken with a Olympus SP-320.

Photographer: Shauna M. Stewart

I’m a student of animal science in Los Angeles, CA. I also study photography, creative writing, drawing, and horseback riding.

For Community and Country

For Community and Country

In response to the events of September 11, 2001, I joined a local fire department. Our country was in mourning and I wanted to help in a time of need. In a culmination of my dreams, my sense of duty, and a calling, I took on this challenging role. During one 4 a.m. call in the middle of winter, we pushed through debris to try to locate the source of a house fire, with no luck. Our crew backed out to change equipment and plan a new strategy. I was met by my captain, a long-time friend, and had a quick moment of clarity while he changed out my air bottle. I remember thinking that all the events in my life had brought me to that moment. I had achieved many of my goals in life, but becoming a firefighter made me whole.

This image was taken with a Canon EOS-1D Mark II.

Photographer: Paula & Rick Labrecque

Paula took this photograph and her husband Rick wrote the caption. They live in North Hatfield, Massachusetts.

Life Lessons

Life Lessons

My father insisted on teaching my 13-year-old son Parker to drive in a big open field with an old Ford truck that he was restoring. I was nervous, but allowed it because it meant so much to my dad. I learned that my uncle had taught my dad to drive under very similar conditions, shortly before he died in a tragic hunting accident. A couple of weeks after this photo was taken my dad suffered a mental breakdown, brought on by some combination of medication and emotion. He is currently in our local hospital but we remain hopeful for his recovery.

Photographer: Laureen Carruthers

I have a small photography business out of my home in Williams Lake, British Columbia.

The Fighter

The Fighter

Two years before, I met her. One year before, we found out about the cancer. Six months before, she finished the first round of treatment (and posed for this photo). Three months before, the cancer came back. Four days before her death, we were married. This picture says everything about who my wife was, how she lived, and how she died: with courage and grace, fighting the whole way.

Photographer: David Reid

I’m a software engineer in San Francisco. Sometimes I take some pictures, and if I’m lucky they tell stories.

Peaks and Crashes

Peaks and Crashes

Driver Joe Sgro and passenger Nigel Hook lost a shoe and a 20-year-old Rolex — but kept their lives — in this boat crash in Göteborg, Sweden. These boats are like Formula One cars on water, and I’m convinced those two guys are still counting their blessings for getting out in one piece. When living life in the fast lane, sometimes you depend on luck and divine touch to continue the activities you love most. I try to live vicariously through those who are insane (or sane?) enough to really live out their dreams.

Photographer: Christian Ahlqvist

I’m an event consultant from Göteborg, Sweden.

Hand Crafted

Hand Crafted

I’m proud of my dad for being a pilot, and for instilling in me a love for adventure. I’m also proud of him for building this plane. By hand. By himself. In his basement, over nine years. It’s an RV-6A airplane: a small, fast, acrobatic experimental aircraft that he flies all over the U.S. He has a giant aeronautical map in his home office with pins; both of places he’d like to fly to and places he’s crossed off his list. Among the crossed-off places are Nevada, Oregon, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, Oklahoma — all far from his home in southeastern Wisconsin. The inspectors who came to check his work throughout the process said it was one of the most meticulous and perfectly constructed projects they’d ever seen. That’s my dad.

Photographer: Kate Marchewka

Kate Marchewka is a teacher/tutor/office manager/freelance photographer living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She is always searching out the interesting and beautiful through her lens.

Dear @Pictory:

I DON’T have a photo of my first ride on a surfboard when I was 9 years old. Still angry at my folks for not getting that.”

No Place Like It

No Place Like It

This is my Kansas: the Flint Hills, that light, those people. But the road is my Kansas too, telling me it’s okay to go. I was born in Kansas thirty years ago and never left for more than a few months at a time. I lived in the same house until I was twenty-two; the same room since I was five. That said, I grew up exploring. We took long road trips every summer and I saw the mountains, the desert, both oceans and the gulf. Though we toured some of the largest cities in America, nothing ever beat coming home, driving down I-70 into the rolling hills with the expansive blue sky above us. Sometimes a haze would hang heavy in the air as if the sky had been sad in our absence. In September, my husband and I moved to Austin, Texas for his job. I didn’t want to. But after months of talking and crying and fighting, we are here. It’s been a struggle for me. I miss my Kansas. Thank God that same road tells me I can always come home.

Photographer: Brooke Raymond

Brooke lives in Austin and makes homes.

Out of Africa

Out of Africa

After graduating college, I mustered courage, along with what survival and photo gear I thought necessary, and moved to the African wilderness. I took a job filming and photographing for a safari company in a remote part of Central Tanzania. I left everyone I knew and most modern amenities for the better part of a year. My mind quieted, my senses heightened, and my natural rhythms synched with the harsh and beautiful surrounding environment. It was the most alive I had ever felt. Despite being battered by the sun, ravaged by tsetse flies, bloodied by acacia thorns, hissed at by cobras, choked by dust, and stalked by lions, I woke up every morning wanting more. Upon coming home, I found myself to be radically changed. I felt misplaced and overwhelmed by the noise, pace, and stress of the Western life I had since forgotten. I would pore over old journal entries, watch and re-watch video footage, and stare longingly at the photographs I had taken. I spent many days and nights wishing for a way back, plotting my triumphant return. Like so many before me, I felt homesick for a land far away, missing the harsh lessons of love given freely and frequently by Mother Africa.

Photographer: Tyler Sharp

Tyler Sharp is a photographer, writer, and artist who has spent the last few years documenting countries and cultures both near and far, in hopes of creating stories of adventure, spirit, and human triumph.

Good Grieving

Good Grieving

After my father and sister passed away, I felt lost and aimless; but over time, my camera became an outlet for stress and pain. This transition stage between mourning and renewal was a sort of self-therapy, and I often saw fractures of faces in my photographs. I made this particular photograph as I was beginning to understand that it can take great tragedy to find pure and absolute truth.

Photographer: Andrew Hara

I am an architectural photographer with a strong interest in abandoned structures.

Praying for Closure

Praying for Closure

A week before a long-anticipated trip to Laos, my neighbor committed suicide by jumping off the roof of our 4-story apartment building. He landed 10 feet in front of me while I was tinkering away in my garage. It was a horrible and violent death, and I felt utterly powerless to help. For days I played this scene in my head like an endless loop, and felt as if a huge wound had opened inside me. While in Laos, I met a young monk who listened to my story. He suggested I make an offering to my neighbor, and while I prayed to the Buddha, he chanted in Pali, the Buddhist liturgical tongue. He finished the ceremony by pouring water onto the earth and tying an orange cotton bracelet onto my wrist. “When you are sad,” he said, “look at this bracelet and it will make you happy again.” When I left the temple, I felt healed and lighter than ever, knowing this chapter was finally closed.

Photographer: Suzanna Shubeck

Suzanna Shubeck is an interactive designer and photographer in San Francisco.

Scar Tissue

Scar Tissue

Sitting with a view of orchards and the Sahyadri mountains of western India, I relived the surreal seconds earlier in the year when I was tumbling down a steep wall of stones, gravel, and dry bushes full of thorns. I had broken my leg very badly during a climb, and was just off the walking stick when I ended up on this trip to visit a temple. After months of recovery, watching the world pass by while I limped, I needed answers. And then suddenly, all thoughts left my head. Sipping tea, and looking at my scarred leg and the miles of green ahead, I had an epiphany: I needed to bring myself above the ground, to leave the mundane behind, to climb, to see as far as I could see. Broken bones were not going to stop me. This is the moment I realized that pain is just discomfort, and fear is voluntary — and willed myself to move on from my first major injury in life.

Photographer: Sukhdev Singh
Dear @Pictory:

I wish I had an image of my face when my future wife sat down beside me for the first time on Jan 1, 1999, at 12:02 a.m.”

And Then I Knew

And Then I Knew

In Chinese culture, “meeting the family” is essentially telling them you want to marry their daughter. I was aware of this before agreeing to visit my girlfriend’s family, but still had doubts about my feelings for her. During my stay in China I was lucky enough to meet her grandparents, who have a small house and a large garden where her grandfather grows some food to sell in the local market. He also takes care of my girlfriend’s bedridden grandmother. When we arrived at their house they had just finished a meal that her grandfather had cooked, and my girlfriend asked how the food was. Her grandmother looked down sheepishly and said it was too salty but she didn’t want to tell her husband because he had worked so hard to make it for her. I realized that my girlfriend got her heart from her grandmother. I realized this was the family I wanted to be a part of. This is the moment I fell in love.

Photographer: Mark Starr

Mark Starr is a freelance photographer and tutor currently living in Yantai, China.


Contributor Reactions

As Rob Gardiner mentioned, it’s not easy to share these kinds of stories with the world.
Rob and three others react to the publication of the their most intimate photos.

I had never written that story down before, and while I left a lot of it unsaid, it kind of helped me to get it out. So I am happy enough to have it published.” Rob Gardiner

Having my photo story accepted into this showcase feels nerve-wracking and validating at the same time. I’m exposing myself on many levels — but I’ve never known any other way of being in the world. And to see my personal story surrounded by intimate work from other creative people makes me feel like I’m in the right place.” Heather Perry

I didn’t think about taking the picture, I didn’t think I’d ever show it to anyone. I didn’t think it’d be one of only a handful that I’d take of her before she was gone. It was an almost forgotten moment, yet it tells a complex story of love and loss. This is why we take pictures.” David Reid

I like to put on a brave face so the thought of countless people seeing a very personal image of me, in pain and grieving, made me feel terribly vulnerable at first. But it is an honor to be chosen and a privilege to share my story. And let’s not forget the value of telling friends there is a naked picture of me on the Internet!”Tarnya Hall

Showcase 3 of 37

Recent showcases: See the world through the eyes of Pictory contributors.