THE DEATH OF ROBIN WILLIAMS AND WHY WHAT YOU DO IS IMPORTANT

I met Robin last January. He was incredibly gracious, kind, and surprisingly soft spoken. He was shorter than I had imagined him as a child and yet he had a command of the room without saying a word. He was a rare talent born in the golden age of comedy where crafted storytelling trumped rapid-fire sex jokes. A genius that may never be rivaled.

He passed away earlier this month at the age of 63.

As a photographer there was never a strategic endgame in my mind. I never laid awake at night searching for the deep philosophical meaning behind the work I do. I’m self-aware enough to know it’s always been as simple as loving what I do and sharing that with people. I love creating and until now it was as simple as that. Yet when I heard of his passing I came to realize something I hadn’t previously considered.

I’ve heard it said that you die twice. Once when the last breath leaves your body and once when somebody says your name for the last time. If that’s true, as a photographer I have the opportunity to give people an immortality of sorts. To let not only their names but their image continue on after both them and myself are long dead and gone. That’s true for anyone who picks up a camera.

It’s a little surreal to consider that the man so largely responsible for capturing my imagination as a child was, only a year ago, taking my direction on set. That he looked me in the eye as he shook my hand and said, “Thank you”. That as soon as I started the shoot he took out his phone and began photographing me while I was photographing him as if to even the playing field. Now here we are a year later and he’s no longer with us. But as I revisit the images from our time together I realize they will carry a small part of his legacy into the future. I consider that the greatest of honors.

The point I’m chasing is this; if you’re a photographer, never treat your work as disposable and never take for granted what it is you get to do with your life. In one way or another Robin influenced each and every one of us through his work. It is now our responsibility as artists to craft the narrative, capture the moments, and share the lessons learned in hopes that we can impact the coming generation with as much intensity and imagination as Robin did with ours.

You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams

Sean Hagwell