Photography is ubiquitous; it's everywhere. We shoot photos by the thousands with our phones. We delete them to free up space. Photography — and in particular, digital photography — is ephemeral.
Oil paintings, by comparison, have for centuries stood the test of time as a more permanent visual medium. An oil painting, for example, takes about 400 years even to dry completely.
So while photography may be easy and convenient, oil paintings are designed to last.
And I say this as a photographer who has lived and worked lived and worked in Howard County, Maryland for the past 30 years. I've made literally thousands of photographic portraits. I love photos; they're my life's work.
Now, I serve as the reference photographer for Baltimore-Washington Oil. My job is to make the images that will in turn be painted by the master artists at Zhang Studio, 10,000 miles away in Xiamen, China.
For much of my adult life I worked as a photojournalist. At The Baltimore Sun, my photos were seen by hundreds of thousands of people every day — and then promptly tossed into the recycling bin the next morning.
Today, the images I make will survive for hundreds of years. They will outlive the subject. They will outlive me. They will be treasured, and handed down for many generations. Eventually, they will almost certainly become the only remaining visual document of the subject's life.
The responsibility of shooting for history, especially family history, is something I take very seriously. I know that the few hours that we spend together will result in an image that will become a bridge over time between ancestors and descendants.
Painting by Zhixing Zhang/Zhang Studio
Reference photo: R.J. Kern