The Farewell Tour Part II

on my very last shoot of 2017, after shooting 11 sessions in one week, i dropped my camera on my foot. it broke both my toe and my camera. i think it was the universe saying, "no, really, you are DONE." all of the following images were taking during that week in california. xx


i couldn't feel how hot the shower actually was because a thought had come and taken me away. photographs are reference numbers for a life. When we can't remember what it was to be living, we find a picture, and ask the face of ourself we see smiling there. What did it feel like? Who was I? What did it mean then? What does it mean now?


The other night i was kidnapped again, not by my own thoughts but by the icloud. Almost 50,000 photos within access. All i needed was to press my curious fingers against the glass thin device in my palm. I thought I could know myself. my thumbs moved fast. 


It didn't work. instead of the pictures helping me remember they seemed only to shed light on how much i'd forgot. I could not build a bridge between the face in my hand and the face on my kneck. who are you? how did you get here? i asked the pictures of my skin, my shorter hair, my body--the same basic shape in various sizes. One photo was of my son in his kindergarten classroom a year ago. He had a hair cut i couldn't find in any of the memories in my head. I truly thought he'd always been the snarly tangled blond boy i kissed goodnight. But his fingernail sized self smiled at me with hair short and textured, insisting this was not so. i guess his hair grew particularly fast. Fast enough i never even noticed.


Which brings me back to the thought in the shower. Actually, lets skip ahead to the thoughts that came as i was toweling myself dry. Thats when i realuzed I do not meet myself when i look at photos of myself and my family. I meet myself when i look at the photos of your family. The photos i made "profesionally," for the last ten years. In the hug you are giving your son, i see how nervous i was that day. how the only thing that made my nervousness crest and recede was the love you gave each other, spilling out like a spring in front of my lens. In response, my own love rose. i wore my skin with more ease--my expressions finally fit comfortably on my face. 


When i look at the red dress you were wearing for our session, i remember also what i wore.  how comfortable or uncomfortable i felt chasing your toddler between the hallway and his bedroom, eventually out into the green back yard. When i see you laying with your daughter on her hammock, i feel again the tears i kept as a secret in my eyes.  It had been the anniversary of a marriage i'd left and though i knew i would never have the same simple family sweetness, i felt better in my heart knowing it could exist for anyone, for you.


I see the picture of your  four year old, twirling in a golden australian afternoon, her body disappearing into a glob of light, as if she and the sun are one and the same. And i remember how far away i felt at that precise moment. From freedom, from family, from a life that made any sense. And yet, there i was, camera in hand with access to transcendence right in front of me. The need to understand suddenly leapt over by the simple ability to feel. I learned i could  still feel good when my own life looked bad. 


Is it wholly self absorbed when i tell you i could go through every picture i took of your family, one by one, and tell you the lesson that moment taught me about me? Probably. Still the need to express thanks presses at all my boundaries. the ones i've drawn up tight around myself that say I am no longer accepting family photography clients. Maybe true gratitude is how one learns to say goodbye.

True gratitue, endless moon pools of it,  is what  i have for each and every one of you.  I took your money and your photos, we know that part. But i took your heart wisdom too. i made a little duplicate copy that i zipped up with my shot film into my pink fanny pack. I held it up to the light later, just as i'd study a negative, and i saw better how to live, how to be a mom, how to be me. Thank you Thank you Thank you.


Now my family album, my history of self, is not just  my photos but yours. What an incredibly thickly bound story we have told together...Stacks and stacks of selves i hope shine for years to come. 


on depression and creativity


Today I'm thinking about depression. Probably because I've been able to surface and come up for air for the first time in a long time from my own. I want to talk about how people everywhere all around us keep making, keep doing, keep being though they exist with this ugly demon inside of them. The demon looks a little different for everyone. Sometimes it's a voice that says you aren't good I'll enough, you never will be. Sometimes it's the shell shock of a soft self colliding with the harsh realities of a hurting world. Sometimes it's feeling like no matter what you do or how hard you try, you simply don't and will not belong. Sometimes (and at its worst for me) it's a numbness so vast you forget how to laugh, love and hope, or that you ever did. When that numbness is sitting on your chest like the worst bully you've ever met, though it sounds melodramatic it's not an exaggeration to say that wanting to live is hard. Sometimes you don't. Trust me. 

"But it's in your head," we are told. Well, yes it is. Thank you for your astute observation. But it's also in our hearts. In our soul, in the chemical makeup of our physiology and sometimes even the inheritance of our DNA. 


Depression  is in every part of us and trying to outrun it is like every horror movie you've ever seen where you want to shout at the fools that the monster is coming, don't even bother trying to get away. 


For me, depression is the kind of monster you have to face. You have to stop running, turn around, stare the beast  in the eye and say "I guess we're doing this." Did you think I was going to say "I will defeat you?" That doesn't work either. You might win a battle, but for chronic sufferers, depression is a life long war. 


So you figure out how to dance with a monster on a battleground and call it your life. You figure out the smallest steps you can possibly take without getting eaten and/or blown up. The small steps for me are the absolute most basic-- Love. Gratitude. Humor. Art. They hurt to practice. every part of me resists. But I do because if I don't,  I die. 


these small steps, these precise movements, just as in ballet, after years and years of practice can make you graceful, can make you strong. 


It is so tempting to romantically correlate depression with artists. I love this storyline. Mad genius is my favorite movie. Still,  I resist the stereotype because it perpetuates an idea that to be an artist you have to be haunted and create from a dark place.  That is simply untrue. I know plenty of talented makers who are authentically, deeply, happy people. 


Conversely, I want to resist another stereotype. That those who seem happy, creatively successful, positive, bright and grateful cannot have hurt. cannot have deep dark caves of self-- flat murky tones that they're working with. Just because you aren't wearing or making all black doesn't mean you're not fighting it. In fact so often we learn to be bright because we have no choice. It's the survival road all those small dance steps paved. 


The point is it's complicated. The point is you never can quite tell what's going on behind a face. empathy should be equally practiced for the perceived thriving among us, the perceived struggling among us, and every one of us in between. In fact, you can skip perceiving and  cut straight to kindness to  all no matter how they seem. 


Many  of my heroes are the comedians. The ones who attempt to make jokes to lighten the mood, even with  the depression bully on their chests squeezing out their last breath. Smiling seems counterintuitive, but they do it because it's medicine. Because joking and laughing are are both a fight tactic  and a complete surrender. Life man. You better laugh or you'll cry. In the best moments, you do both. 


What's the correlation between creativity and depressed people? Could be nothing at all. But I can tell you what it is for me. I create in order to dance with my monster. I do it because my depression makes the stakes of creating pretty high. Do I love taking pictures and writing and trying to put that stuff out in the world? Um, kinda. Like on a really good day, a handful of times throughout the year. But the real answer is that I create because for me, it's matter of life or death.