21-year-old Elise Weber tragically lost her father earlier this year. The USA-based photography student shares what it was like to lose such an influential figure in this stage of her life and how his death inspired her current project “It Is What It Is.”
What is one of your favourite memories with your father?
One of my favourite memories of my father was about a week before he died. My parents drove out to Texas from Alabama for my 21st birthday. I had given him my old camera and he was taking pictures of my party. We started talking about photography and he told me he was going to learn the manual controls and his goal was to take a picture that would “wow” me.
What were the circumstances behind your father’s death and what was it like to lose such an influential figure in this stage of your life?
I had driven home for spring break on March 8th. The drive took me about 10 hours after I had school and work the day before. When I got home my father greeted me at the door. I gave him a big hug and he suggested that I take a nap. When I got up I ran a few errands then my mom came home and dyed my hair. We went to bed around 1:00am. At 4:00am my mom woke me saying my father had just had a heart attack and the ambulance couldn’t find our house because it is located in between towns. He never regained consciousness. Losing him at such an important time in my life is devastating. He won’t see me graduate college or get married but with him gone I am even more dedicated in my pursuit to greatness because I know that’s what he wanted from me.
When did you become interested in photography and have you ever taken photography classes/courses?
I have been interested in photography as long as I can remember. When I was younger my parents would buy me disposable cameras and I would take pictures of everything. I would even put our pets in settings and photograph them. I am starting my senior year at Sam Houston State University to get my Bachelor of Fine Arts in photography. I plan on getting my Masters in photography when I graduate.
How has photography helped you to heal?
As I waited for the paramedics to do their work I felt an intense urge to grab my camera and photograph what was happening. I decided against it but at the hospital I gave in and started documenting everything and as soon as I lifted the camera, the pain subdued. Its as if a wall goes up between my emotions and the pain. I can turn off my emotion and focus on the image making. I know that my father would want me to do anything I can to heal and if it also expresses my creativity that is all the better.
Has this loss influenced your personal style at all?
With his death I had an extreme explosion of creativity. It burst forth from me like a plug had been pulled. My father had always thought that people were stuck in their “isms”. Their “isms” being how they act, how they dress, how they treat others according to what others think about them. He told me that he hoped that I wouldn’t get stuck in my “ism”. My burst of creativity not only affected my art but my style as well. In the healing process I discovered myself, which is the main turmoil in a young person’s life. I have broken out of my “ism”.
Tell us about your current project – what motivated you to do it and what meaning do you hope it will convey?
One of my current projects is “It Is What It Is”. These photographs are part of an ongoing series that started with my father’s death. I then photographed the birth of my first nephew on June 17, 2013. He was born on my father’s birthday who so happened to be born on Father’s Day 1951. The project will conclude on September 21, 2013 when my family performs a Viking burial just as my father would have wanted. Bryant H. McGill put it very succinctly, “Birth and death: we all move between these two unknowns.” It Is What It Is seeks to draw attention to the stages of grief and the different ways people cope with it. It brings forth feelings of love, thoughtfulness, confusion and pain. It shows how fleeting life can be and that death is an eventuality that comes whether we want it or not.
What is one photograph you are particularly proud of and why?
One image I am proud of most is one of my mother clutching my father’s ashes titled “My Heart Hurts So Much”. It shows true grief and what true love really look like. What it looks like when one soul is ripped away suddenly from another. It makes one reflect on their own family and what it would be like to lose someone so precious to them.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I am doing everything I can to pursue my career in photography. In five years I would like to be just where my father said I would be, working for National Geographic. I would like to use photography to help others the way it has healed me.