Tonight a good man died, and I don’t use that adjective lightly.
When I met him he had a plump nose, a frizzled patch of thin grey hair, and drooping, peach-grey ears. He wore no glasses, and his eyes seemed to be at least one size too small to match the rest of his face. He walked slow but proud, and it was clear that his sense of wonder had not aged along with his body. He asked you questions, and you could tell he was genuinely curious to know the answer. He had a funny little smile which he revealed while regaling visitors with tales from his life which were at least half true. (Does it really matter, in the end?) When he was a young man the President and the newspaper and most of the people he knew told him to join the fight against the Japanese. So he did, but soon he decided to trade his gun for a camera.
He became a skilled and original artist, photographing people, places, and major events around the world well into his eighties. Whether he was capturing fighter pilots in their final moments, or Parisien street children along the canal, he knew when and how to catch his subjects so that they were truly revealed.
He traveled from a battleship in the Pacific to Europe, Africa, Asia, and all over the United States. In later life he had children, and though they always wanted more from him, he gave them what he could. Like most men, he had difficulty negotiating his purpose in life with children, family, commitment.
He liked women, even when he was old and frail, and he was unabashed regarding the same. I like that quality in men. I’m not sure if there’s a God, but if there is, I believe the presence of women on our planet is the best evidence of His gender. Their beauty covers the earth, making every city and town brighter in its own way; I respect other men who acknowledge and celebrate that. That said, his like of women extended to women beyond his wife, and because of that his family suffered.
His impact is written on the faces of his children and grandchildren, and every woman he once loved. His photographs will live on and inspire long after his death. And all of the rooms and houses and places he inhabited—everything he saw—will be forever marked by his presence. Every grain of sand, every beach, every dense forest and every city street he touched is richer because he once lived. He’s dead, but his energy remains.
His legacy is rich and messy and painful and beautiful and strange and incomplete and at the same time perfect. For he lived, and lived a full, and adventurous life. He loved living, and the people around him loved him for it…