Bear with me if you’ve heard this story before, but I’m asked at least once a day how I got into photography. I’d love to say I got a degree in fine art, but that would be the furthest thing from the truth. The truth is, it was 2008; I was newly divorced. It was one of the darker periods of my life. I was beaten down but trying to create something new from the broken pieces of myself and my life. It seems ironic to me in retrospect, but it was at that time which photography - the same medium I’d loved in my youth - found me, again. I have a friend who says there are no coincidences, and I think she’s right. Over a decade later, I’m forgetting and remembering myself daily behind the lens of a camera. I still feel the pressure from the industry from time to time to develop a niche. It may not look like it because I photograph newborns and families and do commercial work for businesses, but I feel like my niche is love.
I document love. And, whenever possible, I do it with film.
I choose to photograph a single handful of weddings each year. I’ve received good advice from fellow photographers through the years: only blog or post about what you want to create more of. It’s not that I aspire to increase the number of weddings I photograph. But, I do seek to document more stories about love. When Instagram is long gone and nobody knows what digital files are any more, what we’ll have left are memories hopefully made sharper with photographs…and love. Love never ends.
This wedding appealed to me because it occurred at golden hour in the hill country and because the couple was allergic to big weddings and because the bride wore a vintage dress which originally belonged to the groom’s grandmother and because I got to take my original second shooter who is also my wife and because we were the only “vendors” (everyone else was friend or family) and because I got to shoot film and because when I walked to the car to leave I felt more space in my heart.
I recently read a book where the author asserted that the word “namaste” has been whitewashed, and that in India, it really is more of a greeting like “hello.” I have not fact-checked this, so please understand that as a white woman who’s never traveled to India, I don’t have any credibility. I spent a number of years teaching yoga though, and I ended classes with “namaste.” My mother asked me after seeing a number of bumper stickers pop up around town as yoga became trendy, “Am, what does nom-moss-tee mean?” I love her.
And, at that time, I bet I thought I knew exactly what it meant, and I’m sure I rattled off something I’d read in a book or been spoonfed by a yoga teacher. Nowadays, I just don’t know much about anything any more, but the definition I love most comes from Lou Chapman, fellow yoga teacher / writer / and photogapher (just like me). He says the Cliff Note version of Namaste is simply “I see you.”
I have always loved that. And now that I suspect that “namaste” has been translated in ways that appeal to the western audience, I love it more because perhaps it is just simply: hello…I see you. I acknowledge you’re there.
All of this philosophical jargon just to say that when I photograph families, I always hold the intention to get one beautiful photo of Mom. I might sell it to her on the notion that her children will want it some day, and I do believe that’s true. But, it’s also because children can absorb all of our time and energy and resources. (I’m still so new at this motherhood thing, but I think that’s safe to say…or maybe I’m just doing it wrong ). So I take a photo of every mother I photograph as if to say “I see you”: I see you and the sacrifices you’re making and how hard you’re working to make sure everyone gets a snack every five minutes and you are beautiful and worth celebrating. as I was trying to take a photo of this beautiful doe-eyed mama holding her new babe and suddenly (as it always happens) the toddler became interested in the camera again, and I got this shot and thought “Wow, how fitting” - an authentic portrait for a mom to two, yet there she is…can’t you see her…wrapped up in the forever frame of her entire world.
I don’t give much advice because I just barely manage my own life. And, I receive tremendous help from friends and family and the Divine. But, I’d just like to offer one piece of advice that I feel is universal: take photos with the ones you love the most. Even if you never hire a photographer, if you’ve got a smart phone, you’ve got a camera at your fingertips most of the time. You don’t have to identify as a “photographer.” you don’t have to copy the composition you find on Pinterest. You don’t need to weigh a certain amount before you’re “photo-ready.” You don’t need to wear what’s found in this season’s look book. I will say that some lipstick will work wonders (if that’s your thing), but honestly, these elements are all secondary to the raw emotion that a portrait of a loved one evokes.
Nothing we see here is permanent. There’s this term I heard from Jack Kornfield a number of years ago about embracing the full stream of life. As it turns out, life and death are just not that far apart. Something I’ve noticed through the years is that when I photograph newborns, I feel about as close as I ever have to the Spirit within each of us that I have come to call God. There’s a fresh luminosity and a palpable sense of the Sacred.
These are my friends, Leah and Jon. We thought these might be his last photos, but he’s since been moved from hospice to palliative care - a true miracle. I spent an hour with them and truly didn’t know what to expect because it had been almost a year since I’d seen him. The previous time he could barely speak, and I remember telling him, “Jon, I’m going to go now, and you don’t have to respond, and I want you to know that when you’re ready, you can go, too…I love you.” And, he’d not acknowledged me at all until that point but still somehow choked out, “I love you.” I thought that might be the last time I’d see him because that’s what all the doctors said. As his mom says, we fight to get in this world, and we fight to get out. Here he is still defying all of the diagnoses and prognoses.
His mom gave me a homemade oat bar to eat on my way home. And I wondered how - with everything they’ve been through and continue to go through - their Presence filled me up so very much. When the film came back, I could actually see strange lights and auras that were not visible to my eye that day. If I think too much about it, I’ll think it’s impossible. But, everything about Jon’s resilience has seemed impossible. He is a breathing miracle with a smile that could change the world. That’s really the only reason I post these photos here. And to remind you that it doesn’t matter if you’ve not slept in a year or if your photo shoot occurs in a bed, in a room that you’ve lived your life for years, take more photos. His mom insisted that she take a photo of me with Jon, and I felt myself shrink for a moment because it was humid and my hair and I didn’t…and I said, “Yes, that is so thoughtful of you. Thank you” and I will cherish the photo for the rest of my days.
If I allow myself to absorb the moments in people’s lives - the highs and lows and the moments in between - I get to share, my heart swells with gratitude. “Honored” seems a strange word, but I do feel honored…and completely humbled at the same time. Here’s to the full stream of life.