Every Picture Told a Story
Guideposts|November 2020
Every Picture Told a Story
How the Bononi family solved the mystery of the missing photographs
BRIAN BONONI

I’M AN ARCHITECT. ONE OF THE SERVICES I perform is helping clients move into new office space. It’s a pretty routine assignment. I’ve gone into all kinds of spaces: shuttered restaurants, creaky old houses, shiny new office buildings.

Last year, a client was moving into a storefront at an outdoor mall. The space had formerly been occupied by a photography studio. Tenants vacating a rental don’t always do the best job cleaning up. I’ve seen some big messes, and usually a cleaning crew deals with it after I’m gone.

This studio looked as if it had been abruptly abandoned. All the photoprocessing equipment was still there.

Piled against one wall was a huge stack of portraits wrapped in plastic. I picked up one. It was a beautiful family portrait printed on high-quality canvas.

The packet included alternate takes and smaller prints. The entire order probably cost several hundred dollars.

Some of the photos had strips of tape with names, maybe a phone number. Employees must have been in the middle of processing those orders when the studio shut down. I looked around for paperwork, but there was none. What had happened here?

I gazed at the photo. A family, all dressed up, smiling. They’d put on their best clothes, come here to the studio, sat for the photos. A moment in time captured. A moment of life. There must be a hundred of these photos stacked against the walls.

I set the photo down. It was late. I wanted to get home to my wife, Dawn, and our four kids. I was here just to measure the space. The cleaning crew would toss out the photos along with everything else.

I stood there, picturing all those smiling faces crammed into a dumpster. The next moment, I was pulling out my phone and calling Dawn. What I was about to do would change our family’s life and the lives of so many people in those photos.

What I didn’t realize is that God had a lot more change in mind. Way more.

Two days later, after I got permission from the landlord, Dawn and the kids and I drove two minivans to the abandoned studio. We loaded armful after armful of photos into the vans.

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November 2020