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Photo of Cindy in her bedroom in Garden Grove. Photo of her parents in the top-left. Shot on a smartphone.

Dear friend; I want to write you a letter on the importance of photographing your loved ones.

1. They will die

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No matter how rich you are, or how much you love someone; they will die.

They will die, maybe before you. You might die before them.

To me, photographing Cindy is a meditation on life and death. On our life and death together.

I made Cindy a promise a while back that I wasn’t allowed to die before her. It sounds funny, but I take it quite seriously. I try to prevent anything that might lead to a pre-mature death. For example:

  • I don’t smoke
  • I don’t drink and drive
  • I don’t text and drive
  • I don’t go skydiving
  • I don’t own a sports car; because I know I will be tempted to drive it fast, and I might get into an accident, or fall off a cliff, and die. If I want to drive fast; a video game is easier.
  • I don’t consume sugar, or ‘unhealthy’ food.
  • I try to extend my life through intermittent fasting— not eating breakfast or lunch. Just one big meal a day.
  • I don’t drive a motorcycle or bicycle.

2. Photograph ordinary moments

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When I photograph Cindy, I document our simple life, for example:

  • Us filling up gas at the gas station
  • Us eating breakfast, or dinner
  • Us drinking coffee together
  • Cindy in elevators
  • Artistic photos of Cindy, against simple white backgrounds
  • Photographing Cindy on my Ricoh GR II, on film, on smartphone — whatever. Doesn’t matter the tool I use to document my love with her; just that I capture the moment, emotion, and soul.

I also try to put my soul into my photos, by photographing with my heart. To photograph certain important moments, that are meaningful to me.

3. Collaborate with your loved ones

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In the elevator, I asked her to look up.

If you want to document your life partner, or any other loved one— make them a part of the process.

For example, I always show Cindy a photo of her before sharing it. I also ask her to choose her personal favorite photos.

She is therefore not just the subject; but an active collaborator.

4. Memento mori

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A photograph of Cindy waking up in the morning, of our old hotel in Hanoi.

If time goes ‘according to plan’ — my mom, grandma, and other older people in my life will die before me.

So I try to spend every moment with my mom, grandma, and other loved ones (who are older than me) like they will die soon. I don’t know if my mom will die falling off a cliff while hiking. My grandma is in her 80’s — she might die at any moment.

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My mom sleeping; her future casket.

So to never say anything hateful to them, but to capture happy moments— as well as somber moments with them.

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My grandma laughing; I want to forever remember her like this.

To remember what it was like photographing my grandfather’s funeral. Because I will photograph the funeral of my mom and grandma one day.

5. Posing

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Cindy teling me: “Come to bed eric.” Might be her in a casket one day, or at the hospital.

Ask your loved ones to pose for you a certain way before you make photos. Some photos of Cindy are candid— many are posed.

After you make photos of them show them your LCD screen, or review the images. It will help them better understand how they will look in a photograph.

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Cindy really liked this photo.

I will often ask Cindy to look up at the light, to look down, or to look left or right. She knows how she looks on the other side of the camera, so she will pose for me a certain way as well.

6. Take a lot of photos

 

Take a lot of photos of every scene of your loved one. Don’t just take one or two photos on your iPhone and move on. Work the scene. For me, often my best photos of Cindy are shot at the very end— after about 30-40 photos of her.

Learn more: Cindy Contact Sheets >

7. Don’t get distracted by photography

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Don’t forget— the purpose of documenting your loved ones isn’t to make good photos. Rather, the purpose is to better appreciate your life with them.

For example, if your loved ones don’t like being photographed— respect that. Your love with them is more important than the photos.

I often get distracted; I want to make a good photo of Cindy, rather than making her feel good and happy. I have often pushed the boundaries of personal documentation too far. I regret those moments. I need to remind myself: Cindy is the most important thing; not the photos.

Conclusion

Start your own Cindy Project— by starting to document the life (and death) of your loved ones. Of your kid, of your partner, of your parents, uncles, aunts, friends, or even yourself.

Start it easy. You don’t need to share it with the whole world either. Maybe just keep the photos on a folder on your computer, and don’t share them. Or just share a photo a day on Instagram, or Facebook. Just make sure it is personal.

Use whatever camera is easiest for you, and try to put your heart, emotion, and soul in every photo you make.

Always,
Eric

For more guidance, pick up a copy of “Photo Journal.”