Dealing with death, with an online friend?
I’m not sure how to really write about this, but in the past few weeks, two “friends” have died. The odd thing, in my mind, I think of them as a friend, but in actuality, I never met either one of them face to face. Both were photographers, and we shared this interest in historic photo processes. It’s just so odd to have shared emails and even phone calls, but never having met, and then one day you simply get the news that they died.
The first man that died lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, and he collected a large assortment of historic lenses, and he was always scheming, (like me), on how to fit old lenses onto new cameras. He’d come to town fairly often, “to go to Vanderbilt”, he said, but I never really thought that much about the degree of his illness. We kept planning on meeting up for lunch, to look at the old lenses, but our schedules never coincided. But we kept talking over email, and kept exploring our passion for old cameras. Then, one day recently, I see on Facebook where he simply died. Quickly. Unexpectedly. I can remember that disbelief in my chest, when I kept reading and re-reading the post about his death.
The second fellow, well, I never really had a chance to ever meet him, but we wrote back and forth a couple of times, and I’d follow his posts on a photo forum. He was probably well into his 80’s, but it was his profile photo, and the way he wrote, that captured my attention. He was one of the early “modern guys” doing wet plate collodion, in London, so I had massive respect for him. His name was Sean MacKenna.
I’d made up this story in my mind that he was the modern grandfather of wet plate. There he sat in his chair, proud and dignified, and I wondered all the scenes he’d witnessed through his years in England. Here is one Obituary article.
And then a couple of days ago, I see where he went in for emergency surgery, and he just died. Gone. So today, I’m mourning the loss of two people I only met over the computer screen. Maybe in Mr. MacKenna’s case, I’d created some grand story that was much too large. Or, maybe I’m just missing my own grandfather as well.