When a photographer gets a camera for the first time, they take pictures of everything. I mean literally everything. They take photos of whatever looks cool and doesn’t look that cool: plants, pipes, street signs and portraits of annoyed family members to name a few. Some photos are easier to take than others. Plants, street signs and landscapes; those things don’t move. People, on the other hand, are hard. People move around and get annoyed and eventually leave. Even though you may have spent a lot time trying to capture a good likeness, you might not be successful. But everyone finds that one model that will never leave and never get annoyed with you taking photos; I’m talking about your pet.
This column is a tribute to one of my best models, a cocker spaniel named Thomas. We put down Tommy on Jan. 18, 2018 at noon.
Tommy joined our family on Jan. 2, 2009 at the ripe old age of seven years old. He was a rescue from the Connecticut Humane Society and already well set in his ways. He enjoyed sleeping a lot, would finish his food in under 60 seconds and really enjoyed barking at anything that moved, all while wagging his stubby, little tail. Most of this was new to us. Prior to getting Tommy, we had goldfish for almost 10 years. Dogs are just a wee bit different from fish, but after a little while, it was like we had had Tommy since he was a puppy.
Thomas was the kind of dog to happily jump around when you came home, run and grab a toy, maybe pee a little bit from excitement and then find somewhere to hunker down. He was also the kind of dog who would start his naps on one end of the couch, and end them trying to sleep on your head.
I really got into photography in my junior year, when I started using our old Canon PowerShot. My senior year, I took a photo class in which I was heavily exposed to DSLRs and what you could do with them. After graduation, I got my first DSLR, a Nikon D3100 and Tommy became my first model. He would always get so tired from running around all morning that by afternoon he would be taking a nap either on the couch or on the front mat, which made him the perfect subject for taking different photos.
With Thomas as my model, I learned a lot about photography. I learned how to use selective focus to make something stand out in a photo. I learned how to take action photos by trying to track him running across the house. I learned how to edit photos in black and white because, let’s be totally real, pet photos always look better in black and white.
I’ve put off writing this column for a month because I didn’t really know where to start. Taking photos of Tommy and sharing them with the world were the first stories I ever told. The first “photo essay” I ever published was one of him being given a bath by my dad. It didn’t end up anywhere special, just on my Facebook, but it was fun to do.
When I left home after winter break, Tommy was still alive. He was very old, very tired and in a lot of pain. But was still alive. By writing this column, I’m beginning to acknowledge that when I head home for spring break, he won’t be there. When I go home, I’ll no longer have my best model and my best friend.
One of the hardest things in life to do is learn to say goodbye because goodbye signals the end. And now Thomas’s story ends. I’ll tell more stories after this and all of them will be influenced by him, but none of them will be about him. At some point, however, we all have to learn how to say it though. Because if we don’t say it, then we can’t let their stories and legacies live on. And as a storyteller, that’s my job.
I guess that’s the final photography lesson Thomas and I would learn together.