For as long as I can remember, my father was pointing a camera at me. He owned a Leica and a Hasselblad and his work hung in frames all over our house. He was a physician with a love of people and had an eye for beauty. People always said out of his four children, I was the most like him.
On my 12th birthday, he gave me my first 35 mm camera, and my world opened up. In high school, I worked on the newspaper and yearbook staff, spending countless hours in the darkroom. I dreamed of becoming a photojournalist, but never thought I could actually get paid for my work. So, I became a physical therapist.
When I was 25, I had my son, Joshua. On his first birthday, I took him to a photography studio and it was a disaster. There was a long wait and he didn’t tolerate crowds. By the time we got into the studio, his clothes were wrinkled, his face was tear-stained and he had skinned his chin. I knew then something was different about my boy. He was diagnosed with autism at the age of two.
Unable to speak and locked in his own world, I realized if I just left him alone, he displayed the most pure expressions I had ever seen. I turned my lens on him as he played and captured photographs that made people pause. Those photographs displayed on my desk at work is how my professional photography career began.
People long for someone to capture the purity of a moment. A smile. A mischievous look. A flash of worry or contemplation. Real life. In those moments, a story can be told without language. It is in observing those expressions that I began to understand my son and I vowed to capture as many as possible. If he couldn’t tell his story, I decided I would tell it for him.
I was widowed in 2006. My son was 12. And I am grateful that I captured the parts of his story that included my late husband. It is my hope that my work will help others savor the moments that are so fleeting and that one day, stories may be told from the portraits I take.
I own a physical therapy clinic and a Nikon. I love my work…all of it. I’m pretty sure I’m one of the luckiest girls in the world. Thanks for trusting me with your memories.
Sherry (Shei) McLaughlin