A Project in Memorial

I remember the whole thing with clarity.  The week of helpless worry, wondering why phone calls weren’t being returned; the moment of shock when the phone jangled and Laura dashed from the room.  The leaden haze when I approached to embrace her knowing that no matter how hard I squeezed it couldn’t take away her pain.  I couldn’t undo what fate had done.  All I could do was hold her and let her know that I was there even though Chris was not.

Laura’s brother died several weeks ago and in the weeks that followed I’ve done what any person does when someone near them is grieving.  Which is to say, I’ve stood by and reassured but in the grand scheme, I’ve been a helpless onlooker.  Grief is a dense and murky cloud.  Those around you can shout directions until their throats are sore but ultimately you have to walk out of the cloud bank on your own.

Chris left many legacies.  I can’t say that I knew the man well but I knew enough of him that I wish that I had had more of a chance to.  He spent his life traveling, connecting, getting to know people in an easy and friendly way that I can only fathom sufficiently to be envious of.  Everyone he met was a friend and a chance to learn something and a chance to give something of himself.  His travels were wide and free.  He was the sort of person one really wanted to know (and be more like if possible) but who passed all too quickly from our lives.

You may be wondering, about this time, what ANY of this has to do with photography.  Well, one of Chris’ legacies was a large number of photos.  From the mid 80s on he accumulated hundreds upon hundreds of snapshots of his travels.  Recently when Laura’s family was all eulogizing, the topic was broached of what to do with the boxes and boxes of photos Chris had accumulated.  Being ever game for a project of epic proportions, I volunteered my services to digitize the choicest of the lot.  Since that time I have devoted some part of each day to sorting and scanning and posting the photos of a man who I never knew nearly well enough, sifting through the experiences of someone else while the family looks on in anticipation.

In some ways it feels macabre, thumbing through these dusty relics trying to piece together someone else’s life.  In another way it feels a marvelous tribute to another person.  As a photographer I hope that when my time comes someone else will do me the same favor.  The threads of our lives are so delicate and tenuous.  Without care and tending they are cast upon the wind and lost forever.  It is my hope that I can tie enough of those threads together to make a strong and lasting tribute to the man who was Chris Castell.

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7 Comments

Filed under Philosophy, photography

7 responses to “A Project in Memorial

  1. Rob, condolences on Laura’s loss. Your project will doubtless be one of sadness and happy memories but will culminate in a treasure for the family.

  2. Laura

    Thank you, Rob. This is beautifully written. I can relate to the macabre feeling, as I have felt the same thing as I’ve helped you sort through some of the pictures, However, as I flipped through pictures from 1998 this past weekend the thought came to me that going through Chris’ pictures is helping me get to know him a little better. It is a labor of love to go through them and pick out the best ones for preservation, knowing they will be scanned and organized so family and friends can browse through all of them or look for only one category. Yellowstone? New Year’s Eve 1998/99? Yosemite? Chris’ friends? Family members? Nepal? Peru? The couch? They’re all there (or going to be there) for viewing and reminiscing and honoring Chris’ memory. It is a fine tribute to Chris, a man that we both wish we could have known better.

  3. What a wonderful tribute, and what will be a comfort for the family. Sincerest sympathies.

  4. Diana

    Rob, thank for your wonderful, heartfelt words. Sometimes I find it hard to realize that Chris is not with us. I think you have found some of the essence of who he was and the part he wanted to be the most. Sometimes it takes someone close but not too close to put into words what some of us are still struggling to be in words.
    Thank you for all the effort to scan these pictures that all of us will enjoy in remembering Chris.
    Diana

  5. Corey Douglas

    Thank you Rob for the awesome and very moving work you have done here. I can not tell you what it means to us that you would care so very much, not only for our loved Aunt, but to care so much about a man whom, just like you said previously, you never knew very well. You have captured his very essence. He is loved and missed each and every day. Thank you for not only your hard work here on this site, but also for allowing yourself to be open to comfort and be there for Laura. Somehow, this still just doesn’t seem real.
    Thank you for all of your efforts. Your work will be treasured by the family for many years to come.
    In rememberance…..
    Love,
    Jim and Corey

  6. Chuck Castell

    Rob,
    Thanks for this. There is a lot going on in my head that I can’t get sorted just yet, but this is a magnificent effort.
    That’s all, really; just thanks.

    With love,
    Chuck

  7. William

    Rob,
    The Chris we all knew was indeed a great guy. Even through the grief of his passing, many opportunities emerge.

    Your elequent tribute rings clear and will live on through the beautiful work you are doing with his pictures. I am grateful for your compassion, skill and most of all for your love and support of Laura. Chris would have loved knowing you better, too.

    With Love,
    William & Marilyn

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