For me, photography has always been my way of interpreting experience. It is, quite literally, the lens through which I see the world.
As I work and travel - I’ve now been to more than 40 countries - my world shrinks. Spending time away from home and loved ones has taught me to cherish the moments I share with them.
This image is of my grandmother, Dolly Gianoulis. Mommom, as the family calls her. The photo itself isn’t one that I feature on my website. It has never been published outside of my Instagram account. But for me, this image - this moment - is one I will forever live with.
I took it from the back seat of a town car on the way to my grandfather’s burial. It was March 7, 2009.
I was in my last semester at the University of Florida. We had buried my other grandfather (my dad’s dad) the week before. And my brother, John, was a Marine Lieutenant in the middle of his second tour in Iraq.
I remember it all so well. The wake, the service, the burial.
I remember the smell of formaldehyde and cold air at the funeral home. I remember my cousin Jimmy - a virtual twin to my brother - casually wrapping his arm around my mom as she began to cry. I remember my brother calling from a desert far away, his voice distant and hollow.
I remember visiting my great-grandmother after the service. I remember seeing my dad tear up for the first time in my life. I remember feeling numb.
Those first few months of 2009 were an intense period of my life. A period I’m still trying to understand. But this image helps.
This picture is not just of my grandmother, it is of a woman reflecting on her life. The 56 years she was married to my grandfather. The four children they raised. The nine children their children raised. The good along with the bad, because you can’t have one without the other.
When I look at this image today, it is bittersweet.
Mommom is now deep in the throws of dementia. She is still the kind and funny woman I knew. But the disease never gives, it only takes. And each day it takes more of her life - her memories - away.
Sometimes she gets sad when she understands that she doesn’t understand. She apologizes for not being able to find the words she needs to communicate. Then, on other visits, she laughs along with us like she used to, her eyes sparkling with recognition.
If the disease has taught me and my family anything, it is to appreciate it all - the joy and the pain. Life is hard and chaotic, but it’s also quiet and beautiful.
That’s what this image means to me.
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