RAW Feelings: My Tribute to Eric Langlois

By: Michael Abitabilo 

When we launched this site, I promised myself I wouldn’t use it as a forum to publish my feelings or life updates; it wouldn’t be my personal diary.  Following the tragic death of Eric Langlois, however, I decided to break my promise.

For those who are unfamiliar with Eric’s story, you can learn about it here. Briefly, though, Eric was a Connecticut-based photographer who went missing on June 11, 2013. On that day, he returned to the site where he had crashed his mountain bike a day earlier in hopes of retrieving the bike, which had ended up in Lake Lillinonah in Bridgewater, Connecticut, but never returned home.  After a week of search and rescue efforts involving various government agencies as well as volunteers from around the region proved unsuccessful, Eric’s body was recovered on June 18th.  Eric was 33. He is survived by his children, Ryder and Avery, and his wife, Amber, who is pregnant with their third child.

Eric and Amber were the owners of Raw Photo Design, a cutting-edge photography studio based out of Danbury, Connecticut. I first met Eric and Amber in 2010, when they were the photographers at my good friends’ wedding.  After my then-girlfriend and I got engaged in August of 2011, Eric was the first vendor we called. We picked our wedding date around his and Amber’s availability.  We started following their work, and couldn’t wait to get our own Raw photos. We weren’t disappointed; our engagement and wedding photos were everything we had hoped for.

For many people, their wedding photographer is just another vendor. An important part of the proceedings, certainly, but not distinguishable from their DJ, videographer, or florist in any significant way. Eric was different, though.  With a joke, a look, or a well-timed compliment, he had an innate ability to make his subjects feel like they had known him for years within minutes of meeting him.  This was undoubtedly crucial to his success as a photographer, as it set our minds at ease and inspired trust and confidence that he would get the job done.

I first heard that Eric was missing around lunchtime on Wednesday June 12th. I was deeply disturbed, and couldn’t focus on anything else for the rest of the day.  As the days went by, my wife and I grew increasingly devastated. It was hard to explain to others why the situation was so upsetting: “My wedding photographer is missing.” It didn’t sound like something that would have me refreshing Facebook every minute and incessantly searching for updates.

As a dude, Eric was cool. Cooler than me, for sure. When we had a last minute guest cancellation on the night of our wedding, I was quick to offer Eric the hotel room that was vacated so that he and Amber could stick around for the after-party.  I didn’t ask him to stay because I wanted pictures of the post-reception festivities (quite the opposite, in fact). I asked him to stay because I wanted to be friends with him. If I could show him that I was not a total loser, maybe I had a chance!  Suddenly, I was behaving like a middle school version of myself. “Play it cool,” I thought. “Don’t seem desperate.” (In hindsight, the 12-15 vodka/club-sodas I consumed probably made that impossible.) He didn’t stay. Sigh.  I didn’t give up hope, though. Just days before his passing, Eric and I exchanged a few e-mails. If I played my cards right, he and I would be bonding over beers within a few months!

As a photographer, Eric was uniquely talented. Despite purchasing my first DSLR camera recently (which Eric inspired, by the way), I couldn’t begin to explain what made his work so great. All I know is that when I saw his photos, I knew I was looking at something different, something special.

My suspicions of Eric as a dude and a photographer have since been confirmed by the incredible love, support, and respect shown to him by his friends, family and the photography community since he went missing.  In just over a week, more than 3,000 people joined the Facebook group created in his honor. The page is filled with heartwarming messages of love, support, and admiration for Eric and his family.

In case you didn't believe me... yeah, they're cool.
In case you didn’t believe me… yeah, they’re cool.

As I thought about why this was having such a profound impact on me, one word kept popping into my head: legacy. Legacy is a strange concept. How do you define someone’s legacy? If you ask 10 people that question, you might get 10 different answers, though most will have some common themes.

To me, one’s legacy is that which lives on after he or she is gone. Your legacy might be your children, it might be your career accomplishments, or it might be the charitable work you have done. Chances are, your legacy will be made up of some combination of those and any number of other facets of your life.

The more I thought about Eric, the more I realized how significant of a role he played in my life. Along with Amber, Eric was responsible for capturing some of the most intimate and important moments of my life. My wife and I will look at the photos he took for years to come. After we’re gone, the photos will survive and be passed onto our children and grandchildren until they are among the few reminders of our existence.  I never realized how indebted I was to Eric for capturing these moments in such a unique and artistic way.

Eric was an artist, and just like a painter or a musician, his work – and the impact it had on others – will live on for years to come.  Eric helped me and so many other people build a legacy, and in doing so, fortified his own.

That portion of Eric’s legacy is, of course, secondary right now.  Eric leaves behind a family that will undoubtedly miss him terribly.  Amber’s strength during the week Eric was missing was awe-inspiring. One can only imagine, though, the difficult times ahead. While I am confident she and her children will be surrounded and supported by a caring and compassionate group of friends and family, there will always be a void in their lives created by Eric’s absence.

Finally, it is fitting that someone who so effectively used perspective in his work will leave us with just that.  In the same way that Eric’s photos captured love, friendship, and happiness, his untimely passing should remind us that these are life’s most important virtues.

A fund has been set up to assist Amber and the children. Please consider donating. While no amount of money could ever heal their wounds, helping alleviate some of the financial burdens associated with Eric’s death is one of the few ways those who are not close to the family can help.