P A P A J O E / by Elsie Barnes

In the matter of a few days, I lost a very important person in my life who contributed to my pursuit of photography. With me I hold a 35mm camera that he gave me in hopes to help me continue my dream of becoming a professional photographer. 

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As I replay the last moments of it all, nurses explained to us the process of his transition, the signs we should be looking for, and the changes that would occur to his body. But no one explained the anvil that would weigh in your heart, or the gaping hole that would crush me the moment his spirit left his body. No one said, that although he would finally be resting, that his memories would play in repeat in my mind, that I would hear him call my name, or that his laughter would swell up in the corners of my eyes as I tried to remember his joy. 

If you had ever mer him, he greeted you like family. And would always be happy to see you. For those who weren’t blessed to have met him, he was a strong, stubborn, fearless yet gentle man. He was a man of very little words, but full of expressions and relentless actions. He may have never said the words "I love you" but you were smothered in them with his cooking. For my birthday, he would traditionally cook his famous pot roast. This year, very few remembered, but my heart was comforted knowing that if he was still on this earth, he would’ve prepared it, selflessly. 

These photographs come from the very start of s.t.i.l.l. Photography. Before my precious business had a name, before I owned a professional camera, or editing software. These pictures come from when all I had was love for the craft that I knew nothing about. He was one of my very first models.

This image was taken in his home, in front of a black twin bed fitted sheet placed atop an entertainment system. This day, I remember as if it were yesterday. He had asked me to photograph him, and I joyfully obliged. He already had his outfits picked out, and he trusted me even with a point and shoot camera. Maybe because he had been a model in his younger days, or maybe because he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in myself. Either way, four outfits later, my first official session was complete. What’s funny now that I look back at these images, isn’t all of the mistakes I made, but the wonderful memory he and I made, together, how much we laughed, and how horrible he was at taking direction. He was adamant about doing his own thing. Yet in still, he knew that best gift anyone could give me was quality time, which he did. 

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My Papa Joe, the name I gave him while my husband and I were dating, was a remarkable man. He was honest, no holds bar, genuine and at times very raw. He loved hard, and not the ooey gooey love, but the 2x4 to the forehead kind of love. He was also a lover of hats, and coordinating outfits, well seasoned food, good 60-70's music, quality family time, hunting and celebrations.

Today is his birthday, and 6 months since his passing. So in honor of him, I will play the songs that remind me of him, sit in the chair he gave me while remembering his smile, and most of all celebrate a man who gave me the push I needed to peruse this journey. And although I have lost his physical presence on this earth, I feel him near daily.

Not many are blessed to have a second dad...I am so happy I did, and honored I was given him. 

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