January’s a big birthday month for our family.
As readers of this space may remember, we’ve already seen our son Aidan turn 19 and my brother Mike turn 45.
Today is Jon’s turn.
He’s turning 42.
I’m writing regularly this year about sources of joy, and Jon’s definitely one of them for a number of reasons.
At base, though, they center around his always having been his own person
He was like this as a kid.
Whereas Mike and I spent endless hours playing, reading and talking about sports, Jon, who had asthma, repeatedly read a book about skunks. He told Mom once that he hadn’t caught enough people recently, so set about building a people catcher on our front lawn.
The device didn’t snare anyone, but it did move Jon further down the road of making his own choices and carving his own path.
A major part of that path is photography.
Grandpa Arthur, Mom’s father, gave Jon a Brownie camera in middle school. The love of making pictures got Jon in the gut and hasn’t let go. He’s more than 20 years into a photographic journey that has taken him from Chicago’s South Side to elections in Afghanistan, from across the U.S./Mexico border to Haiti after the devastating earthquake almost exactly two years ago.
Jon’s consistently worked to define and expand the technique and scope of his craft.
He’s branched out from being a Chicago-based photographer to a global one.
He’s done two multi-year, remarkably intimate and comprehensive bodies of work and learned to do breaking news events like in Haiti or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf region.
Jon’s work has earned some of the photographic world’s highest accolades.
We’re talking World Press Photography awards. Guggenheim and Alicia Patterson Fellowships, the latter as a named fellow. And, last year, a TED Fellowship.
That’s he’s been able to do that while also managing his finances in a way during tremendous upheaval in the industry and sustained global economic downturn is nothing short of remarkable.
Yet, to me what is at least as noteworthy is the manner in which he has conducted himself.
Jon and his cadre of photography brothers like Danny Frazier routinely edit each other’s work, even at times when they’re gunning for the same funding and recognition. This kind of commitment to each other and to their shared craft can only come from the deepest place within themselves, and is utterly commendable, too.
Today after work, Dunreith and I will get together with Jon, Lynette and our childhood friend Andrew Lichtenstein. We’ll have some food and drink, talk about the day and our upcoming adventures, and laugh.
That meal, and my anticipation of it, are both sources of joy.
So, too, is the life lived by my youngest brother, who on this day joins Mike and me in moving deeper into our fifth decade.