I make my living photographing families. Usually, my assignment is to capture each family at their best, looking for that moment when the true joy and family togetherness become visible. However, the assignment I gave myself for the photos in this book is almost the completely opposite. Here I focus on the individual, invited to drop the posing and presentation, and instead to allow what is often there- but usually hidden- to come to the surface.
We are confronted every day by a society that tells us to be young, fertile, stable, thin, rich, white, and able to move through the world without needing help. These standards are simply unattainable. In undertaking this project, I am stepping up to lessen their power, and to increase and share my understanding of our humanity, each of us just as we are.
In each portrait session for this project, I invited the participant to share something with me that they felt they couldn't talk about in light conversation. Sometimes what emerged was something they held as a shameful secret. Other times participants brought forth something that they weren't actively trying to hide, but felt would be an unwelcome disclosure in their social circle. Breaking that silent rule of suppression was often just as hard as telling a secret held in deep shame.
We made the portrait together, exploring vulnerability, talking about whatever came up and also allowing silences. The conversations that emerged brought participants, in many cases, to feel the decrease of suffering that comes with a greater sense of connection, first, one-on-one with me, and now with the viewers of the exhibit that composes this book. I also invited each participant to share a title, a poem, or a story to accompany their portrait; their heart-felt words enrich my art.
I, myself, am one of the photographic subjects in this project. From what I was learning, it seemed only natural that I would include myself and my own hidden frailties, as part of this greater circle of connection. Before I began the project, I had discovered my own propensity towards anxiety. In the middle of the project, several months into a longed-for pregnancy, I had a miscarriage. The ongoing endeavor of making these portraits brought me the great gifts of connection with others who have struggled with infertility, others who have lost little souls, and others who have stared down panic attacks.
When I did open up about my own loss, the outpouring of support and stories brought me great healing. Though I also had to grieve on my own, my greatest strides came from moments of completely honest presence, seeing and acknowledging another soul. Sharing these scars helps us know we are human, and allows us to note the amazing fact that, despite it all, we are still standing.