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Giving Back: The Gift of Photography

Jack Clancy

I think giving back is important. My dad and my Jesuit education are to thank…or maybe to blame…for my desire to serve.

For most of my childhood, I grew up in a family that didn’t have a lot of money. My dad owned a small corner grocery store in South St. Louis, Clancy’s Market. He packed his store aisles full of the essentials, and behind the register was my favorite part of the store: the shelves of candy. Dad employed his children, nieces, nephews and neighborhood kids. He delivered groceries to elderly in the neighborhood, making sure they had the groceries they needed even though they couldn’t always physically get to the store.

My dad was an amazing example. Displaying what we all ended up calling the “Clancy charm”, he’d make every customer feel like they were family. His Irish eyes twinkled, and I never knew if his rosy cheeks came from being Irish or if they were chapped from being in a cold meat locker for so many hours each day slicing meat. Years after he was forced to close his store, I’d encounter customer after customer, and they all told me the same thing: my dad was such a great man, the neighborhood misses him, and he had a huge heart. I wanted nothing more to make an impact on the world the way my dad did.

Ten years after my dad had to close the doors to his grocery business, I was in college at Saint Louis University. When I came, I didn’t even know what a Jesuit was, and I didn’t really care. I just wanted to escape the small town I lived in and to take classes that challenged me. I left having an imprint on my heart from so many Jesuits and their philosophy. At graduation, SLU alum are christened to be “men and women for others” and to be leaders in their communities who give back and serve. I’d like to think I have done that with every job I have ever had, and for me photography is not any different.

I know that I could charge more money. I know that I could set a timer and leave a session after one hour on the dot. I know I could try and sell prints and make more money. But that is not why I love photography. For me, being your photographer is about giving you something. It’s about helping you remember your children at a magical age, whether its 14 days old, 18 months old, or ten years old. It’s about documenting your life and what your family loves. It’s about helping families who don’t have anyone around to take a picture of all of them get that cherished heirloom.

My dad passed in December of 2009 at the age of 84. Months before my wedding in 2007, he slipped on black ice on his walk from the car to church. Days later he was in the hospital with a subdermal hemotoma, blood leaking into his brain, creating pressure on his brain, making him a man who wasn’t my dad. He spent days asleep, in a coma like state. He woke up, but he was never the same. He couldn’t stand. He couldn’t speak like he did before. My strong hero was a shell of himself with fleeting moments of the man I loved shining through. Somehow, he found the strength to sort of walk me down the aisle at my wedding with the help of one of my older brothers who was also my godfather.

Dad and Me: Cardinals vs. Red Sox World Series, 2004, Final Game
Dad and Me: Cardinals vs. Red Sox World Series, 2004, Final Game

My children never met my dad. But you know what I have? Photos. And thank God my mom took a lot of pictures back when it was expensive to process film and when you didn’t know what kind of picture you got after you heard that click on the camera. Photos are a huge piece of what I have left of my dad, and my children get to know him every time a memory pops up on our Apple TV. They hear stories about him on the farm, see me months old in a grocery cart smiling at him, and get excited when they see my dad and me dressed in Cardinals gear at a World Series.

Photos are some of the most precious gifts I have been given, and that’s why I love taking pictures for others. I want them to have those same cherished heirlooms, be able to share stories, and remember what life was like way back when.



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