The people in this photo are my parents, Stan and Donna Freberg.
They are both dead.
But they are not forgotten.
My memories of my mother and father could fill oceans and span galaxies. I can remember the way my dad would hug me (like a bear) and the way he smelled, like Aramis and suede. I can remember the way my mom would hug me (like a blanket) and the way she smelled, like Gardenias and Kent cigarettes. I can remember the sound of my father’s voice, which earned him much of his living and could ignite a stadium of fans. I can remember the sound of my mother’s voice, which was as sassy and stern as it was sweet, ever hoarse but never coarse, and could rally a film and television crew like hungry kittens gathering around a bowl of milk. I can remember the first time my father put a camera into my hands, and the last time I saw him. I can remember my mother’s purse, which contained worlds of wonder and I can remember my tears falling into that purse as I opened it to give her identification to the funeral home on the day she died.
Although my memories of them are forever burned into my neural pathways, the sands of time tend to wear away at the realness of them. Sometimes, they are like a bank vault, strong and impenetrable. Sometimes they are like a vapor or a fog, and that is when my misses turn into gigantic waves, whitecaps of sorrow that hurt so much, they feel like they may just sink the ship of my heart. In moments like that, in those dark storms, photographs are my life boat and lighthouse.
The photograph you see above (dust specks, creases and all) was taken on my parents wedding day, more than half a century ago. On the back of the photograph is a simple inscription, “KINDLY CREDIT: Photo by Sergis Alberts’”.
I looked him up. It seems he had quite a career. It also seems, that like the people in the photo, he is no longer with us. But like the people in the photo, his legacy is.
From Mr. Alberts obituary in the LA times…
“Hollywood portrait photographer Maxwell ‘Sergis’ Alberts, who launched his studio in the Beverly Hills Hotel with the legendary screen vamp Theda Bara as his first subject, has died of a heart attack, relatives said. He was 76.
Born in Winnipeg, Canada, Alberts moved to Los Angeles with his parents in the 1920s. He became an apprentice to his father, Sergis Alberts Sr., also a portrait photographer.
At 18, he opened the studio in the Beverly Hills Hotel and later operated the Maxwell Studio in San Diego before returning to Hollywood to take over his father’s studio after the elder Alberts died in 1940.
Listed in Who’s Who of American Photography in 1943, Alberts photographed such celebrities as Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Howard Hughes and Eleanor Roosevelt. His grandfather had been the official court photographer to Russian Czar Nicholas II, his daughter said…”
His daughter, by the way, is following in her father’s footsteps.
So am I.
My father did many things, so many in fact, that in the little box where you would write “occupation” my father often just penciled in, “brain surgeon”. Kept things simple. The box could not fit him nor his list of abilities, but the one thread that could fit into that box was the truth of who he was, the common denominator of his brilliance, he was a storyteller.
So was Mr. Alberts.
And I am so lucky he was, because my parents are alive through his eyes, sitting on a sheet of exposed photo paper, an alchemical brew of silver and light.
I used to think that being a photographer was about taking photographs. It isn’t. It’s about keeping the dead alive. It’s about legacy. It’s about time, and stopping time. It’s about forever. It’s about love. It’s about telling the story of my clients not just for them, but for their grandchildren.
So, my friends, when you go back into the burning house, what will you get? It won’t be the wedding cake, it won’t be the flowers, beautiful and tasty as they may have been.
You will go back into the flames for the photographs.
For those you have lost.
For those you must never forget.
My fellow photographers, like Mr. Wonka, Mr. Freberg, Mrs. Freberg and Mr. Alberts, we are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.
And most importantly, we are the keepers of the dream.
Thank you, Mr. Alberts.
This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that you were standing in a little church in Carmel, California, on a spring that sprung some sixty years ago, holding your time machine and pointing it at my parents, so I could hold them in my hands forever.