“One fall day, while I was splitting maple logs into firewood on my farm in upstate New York, a neighbor pulled up in his ’57 pickup, rolled down his dusty window, and shouted above the rumbling engine, “You know, that wood’s going to heat you three times.”
“Oh, yeah?” I replied, wondering what he was talking about. “Yup,” he said. “The first time is now, when you’re working up a sweat splitting it into firewood. The second time is when you’re sitting in front of the fire, toasty warm as it crackles away. And the third time is when you haul out the ashes. Can’t ask much more than that from a tree,” he laughed, as he roared off down the road.
That neighbor loved wood – loved to work with it, walk through forests full of it, talk about it. His observations were as deep as the passion he held. When spring came, and I was wandering through the forest hunting for images with my 35mm, I thought of that neighbor. I thought about his passion for the woods, how it nurtured him, brought him to life. And I thought about my passion for photography, how it comforts me, brings me to life. Photography, I thought, heals three times.
The first time is when I am in search of the image, present only to that which is, focused on the moment at hand. By virtue of this absorption in the now, I am released from the often painful grip of past and future. The second healing belongs to the person being photographed, the honored recipient of pure attention, healed by an artist’s loving gaze. The third healing occurs when we view a photograph as an outside observer and are moved by its power or beauty. The chance to see the world through another’s lens, to be transported to another time, another place, another reality, can heal and transform our own.”
The previous paragraphs are from the introduction of a book written by Jan Phillips titled God Is At Eye Level. You may be wondering why in the world I am starting this post with the introduction of someone’s book… but today is Thursday, which means I am allowed to blog about total randomness! LOL!
But actually, it isn’t randomness at all… at least to me anyway. This is actually what I think about every single day! When I opened up and read the introduction section of this book, I felt like those were MY words on the page, as if Jan Phillips read MY thoughts just before she put this book together!
Jan said, “Many people I know have a love affair with photography. They’re filled with stories of transformations that occurred as they discovered photography’s power to soothe and mend the broken wing.
I did not come to photography looking for magic. I came looking for a way to speak my pain. In the process of finding images to portray my darkness, I passed through the shadows into the light. Now I am one of photography’s many lovers, devoted to the art of seeing and revealing.
Every second I spend looking through a lens waiting for someone’s beauty to surface, a cloud to move, the light to turn from gray to gold; every hour that passes as I stand in the darkroom with safelight shining, transforming the negative into a positive, I am warmed and transformed.
There’s something holy about this work, something healing about this search for the light. Like the pilgrim’s journey, it’s heaven all the way.”
I have looked for the words to express this thought… this feeling… to those who do not really support what I do. I am saddened that some people have tried to spin a negative light on my photography simply because it is something I do alone without my family and kids. I am saddened that they can’t see that their lack of support not only makes me sad, but actually makes this journey of healing a lot more difficult. Is it really that terrible that I spend some of my weekends away from home shooting a wedding? or hiking to a waterfall? or searching for some alone time with God? After all… I am a stay-at-home mother who barely leaves the house Monday through Friday!
I am cursed with a mind that over-thinks everything and a heart that feels every hurt ten times harder than the average person. I came from a very difficult childhood, with one traumatic event after another… some that I’ve shared with people, and some that I have not. Growing up, we were not allowed to discuss with ANYONE what our family had been through… what we had experienced. We didn’t even talk about it amongst ourselves. The topic was off limits, which I believe is completely unhealthy for a child who had experienced so much trauma. Photography has allowed me to heal in ways that I’ve never been able to heal before. I am more positive with my feelings toward my husband, my children, my friends, and my past. I can honestly see now that the tragedies of my past were allowed by God to happen because they transformed me into the person I am today… the way I think… how deeply I feel… and it is those characteristics which make me a great photographer! I have to believe that God put that camera in my hands for a reason.
I believe I am a great photographer. And I haven’t been able to admit that to myself until recently. I’ve had the most horrible self-esteem and have not been confident enough to say those words until now. But after looking deeper into my own images that I’ve taken, I see a little bit of myself in every shot. My photography has become a healing art, and pleasing others with my images is not what it is about. While it is nice to get words of encouragement and to hear someone tell you that they love your image, that isn’t what photography should be about. It should be about how your images make YOU feel… what YOU think about your own images… how they transform YOU… how they heal YOU!
Like Jan Phillips, I enjoy looking back at photos out of the old, dusty, brown cardboard box that contains images of my childhood… images of my mother, brother, father, cousins, grandparents, great grandparents, vacations, pets, etc. Looking at those images transform me to a time when life was great… or not so great! Either way, the images are healing to me. And that is why I take so much pride in my own images that I produce. One day, a bride or a groom, or even a parent of the bride and groom, will look back at one of my photos and will be transformed to a place that is happy! One day, my own children will pull out that old, dusty, brown cardboard box of old photos and they will be able to go to their “happy place.”