Portraits are more than Paper

Below is a poignant blog post by portrait photographer Jeanine Thurston (used with permission).

Original post found here:  A letter on my doorstep. Portraits are more than paper.

Posted on January 2, 2012

There will be no portrait photos in this post.  This letter wasn’t mailed – it was at my doorstep when I got home a couple months ago.  I read it, I cried, and read it again – probably a hundred times by now.  It wasn’t easy to read – and honestly, as much as it validates what I do for a living – I wasn’t sure I was going to share it either.  If you choose to read through the letter, you will know why I’ve finally chosen to share it.

July 2nd, 2011

Jeanine – 

Today I am writing for a couple of reasons.  I have some quiet time at the moment and need to get a couple of things off my mind.  I will leave this for my husband to deliver to you when he is ready.

You photographed my wedding, you photographed my first pregnancy and my first baby.  I contacted you awhile back to photograph my 2nd child and family.  After getting prices and realizing I would want all of the pictures as we love your work – I decided against spending $500+ – which is what I normally spend for portraits and prints with you..  Please know it is not because I don’t value your amazing eye, or how much we love the experience.

That week that I decided to NOT do a session with you, this is how I spent some money.

On Sunday I called and cancelled our session.  Monday I went out and got my hair cut ($39+tip), and colored ($65), Thursday I had my nails done ($24), my family went out to dinner at a somewhat expensive restaurant for no particular reason costing us $79 + tip.  This was just 4 days since canceling our session, already totaling over $200 for un necessary things.  My nails only lasted about 2 weeks, my hair is gone, and seven weeks passed when I got the phone call from our doctor.  It was not something I expected and the cancer has spread very quickly.  I will be leaving my husband, my 6 year old girl and my now 2 year old – not by choice.  It is very hard for me to talk about it which is why I need to write you.

I watch your Facebook page and your posts about the value of a photo and if I could give back all of those things that I purchased this few weeks after I cancelled my session with you, knowing what I know now, and have that session, well… I would do it in a heartbeat. 

Now my time is done and there are no more chances for me.  The next time someone cancels a session – my wish is that you forward this letter to them.  Time is fragile, it is gone before you know you had it.  If you charged $200 for one print it wouldn’t be enough for what it is actually worth.  I cringe to think that my priorities were a manicure over a memory to pass onto my babies and husband.

My love and thanks for what you have given us from past photos.  I am so sorry that I did not see it as more than paper until now.

Karen L.


A few years ago I struck a deal with my husband. The deal is this: all I want for Mother’s Day is a photo taken of me with my children. I do not want flowers (far be it from me to turn any down…), I don’t want a meal out (home grilled BBQ drumsticks are delicious and far easier than dragging 5 kids out to eat!), and I don’t even care if I get any chocolate (even if it is dark chocolate with forest mint). All I want is a photo. With my children *and* me. My oldest child will be going off to college in the fall, and I regret not thinking of this years earlier.

I am truly thrilled that my passion has become an avenue of giving to others and I am honored each time I photograph an individual or family and am allowed capture a moment in time that they and their loved ones will treasure for years to come.

*   *   *   *   *

This quote resonates with me deeply:

The meaning of life is to find your gift; the purpose of life is to give it away.”

I believe we are all here to give back and not to just live for ourselves. I have deep empathy for families that suddenly find themselves flung into a life and death battle due to a chronic illness, such as cancer. Family portraits taken before the onset of  the often harsh medical treatment, I believe, are an often overlooked detail due to life taking a sudden, unexpected spin. I am interested in helping families who find themselves in this situation, if I am able.