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Judy

Judy Sherrod:  she hated having her photograph made; I did it anyway.

Judy (1 of 18).jpg

How do you begin to process loss?  I’ve experienced it before - at 41, it would be nothing short of miraculous if I hadn’t - but I am unfamiliar with the permanent loss of a friend from this earth.  Since the end of July, I have gone through the whole gamut of emotions, including most recently shame, because I have felt like a fool for my grief.  

The truth is that I didn’t really know Judy that well.  I don’t have a memorable story to share about the first time we met.  I had a million questions for her, a million things I wanted to know, but hadn’t asked, because I respected the silence she seemed to maintain on the subject of herself.  My feeling was that she guarded a life well lived, lived with passion, that had for whatever reason caused her to put up a wall and focus on others instead, and who am I to pound at that wall with a lot of meaningless questions.  The details didn’t really matter anyway; what I saw was a woman who was strong, brave, authentic, self assured, and absolutely not in any way full of sh*t. 

I got to know her because of an invitation: following up on my comment about an event I saw on Facebook, she invited me to join in.  It seemed like the right thing to do, so I went, and immediately had my mind blown and foundations rocked by a side of photography I had never considered.  It had been a long time since I felt that out of place, and I wanted to leave, but I stayed - I stayed because of Judy.  Two plus years later, I am so glad that I did; the friendships and experiences I have had as a result of her vision have enriched my life more than I can possibly say.

Judy made me feel welcome in a world where I didn’t belong, didn’t fit in, because it seemed like she was just as mystified by it as I am.  She told me once that she was “a terrible fine art photographer, because if I don’t get in to a show I’m pissed off about the time and money I spent on it, and if I do get in I’m pissed off about how much it costs to mail the work.”  She told me this after I confessed to her that I was secretly relieved that I didn’t get in to something because I knew what an expensive pain in the ass it would be to post a bunch of framed pieces.  (I would argue that she was in fact an excellent fine art photographer, and it could be she was just commiserating to make me feel better, but those points are moot now).  This is how we spoke to each other; in a life of minding my daily p’s and q’s, I was hugely grateful to have a wise friend that I could be frank with, someone completely real that wouldn’t judge me for being real myself.  

Judy was my anchor in the vast ocean that is the photographic community.  She encouraged me in everything, and inspired me with her own fervor for following whatever trail spoke to her at the moment.  I haven’t really begun to understand the hole her passing has left in my life, but I know I will never fill it.  She remains in a legacy of fearlessness, passion to try new things, kindness, generosity, and overall joy for every single moment.  Rest in peace, dear friend.  I only knew you in part; one day I will know you fully.

Judy (12 of 18).jpg

All photographs made with film, and with a promise that they would never end up on Facebook.  So I shared them here instead.

40

Keeping with tradition, here are a selection of the self portraits I made during the previous year, my 40th spin round the sun.

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Life Among the Legs

I loved my childhood.  Aside from the interminable torture of school, I ran wild and free.  My imagination was boundless; the backyard was my kingdom and I was Princess Leia.  I rarely watched TV, and I would cram all my homework into every spare second between subjects in school, so my time was just that:  Mine.  Glorious, joyful, autonomy.  I would fight to avoid baths, my hair was dirty, my legs were covered in welts - it was awesome.

Once I became a teenager and started mooning around, miserable from the power of hormones, paralyzed by all the thoughts and yearnings banging around my brain, I pretty much forgot about all that.  

And then, eventually, I became a mother.

Welcome back, childhood.

Looking at the world of children with adult eyes, the old non-conformist, anti-establishemnt girl inside me is outraged.  Most first world kiddos are lucky if they get 3 years at home to just play before they are put into some kind of school; depending on where you live, social pressure has you in some kind of organized activity practically from birth, and don’t even get me started talking about electronics.  I felt sick at the idea of sending my daughter to pre-k for three mornings a week, but I did it for two reasons:  I knew her kindergarten would be a full day, and I wanted to ease her into that, and also in spite of my strong rebel attitude I do believe just as strongly in education.  So, off she went.  And the following year to kindergarten for an astonishing 7 hours a day at age 5.  Homework, too.  It broke my heart.  

Where is there time for childhood?  Where has it gone?  Why do they need to play with our phones, anyway? Time passes, quickly; in my opinion, youth should to be encouraged, drawn out, savored.  I’ve noticed that my own child is happiest when she is dirty, free of schedules and rules and people telling her what to do.  We count the days until school holidays in my house; it’s a time when happiness abounds, when we wad up the calendar and throw it away.

In my post-baby, getting-older, overly-sentimental state, I started looking for the pure life of these beautiful, miniature human beings with my camera.  I don’t remember the adults around and above me when I was small; I have no memory of my life among the legs, although I do remember occasionally grabbing the wrong one.

I looked, and here is a sample of what I have found so far. This project is ongoing for me, and a lot of fun to work on, not just as a photographer but also as an observer of human nature. It’s interesting to see how children interact with the reality of adult life, the waiting, standing around, talking, shopping.  The undercurrent of pedestrian life is important.  One day, they will grow up and change the world.

This project is ongoing.  The "full" set of photos can be seen in a folder on my website.

May

2014

2014

Dreamer spreads her wings                                                                                                           

Each day is filled with wonder                                                                                                

Watch her as she flies

2008

2008

Yesterday, she was a baby.  I blinked, and today she is a witty, intelligent, creative friend and helper.  She makes omelettes, and mac & cheese; she has great ideas, and surprises me daily. Motherhood has transformed from the panic-stricken act of fulfilling every need, to supervision and guidance.  I see the differences between us, and celebrate them with her.  These days when I make a photograph of the two of us, she expects (and is usually granted) input.  

Thanks to National Poetry Month, my Mother's Day present from Louise this year is an anthology of poems that she wrote at school.  They are precious to me, of course, and offer me a glimpse inside her mind that I don't normally see.  Poetry Month also gifted me with the chance to encourage and inspire more writing from her:  when I suggested she write cinquains to accompany my cyanotypes, she jumped at the chance and produced one after another.  I dug out all the poetry books I bought when she was younger, the ones she was never interested in before, and have read them all to her at bedtime.  That well having run dry, I decided to fish out a book of my own poetry (yikes) from 20 years ago.

Twenty years.  A lifetime for some - half my own lifespan right now.  I haven't looked at that book in two decades, but as I read the work to her I remembered the circumstances that provided the impetus for putting pencil to paper.  Louise was rapt (believe me, they are hardly award winners) and asked me why I quit writing.  The honest answer was one I'm not prepared to give her: too much harsh, offhand criticism from someone in my life that meant everything to me at the time.  Beware, critics.  You never know what fire you might be spitting on, and putting out.

2017

2017

The next night, after a "poetry class" at the kitchen table - her teaching me about concrete poems, diamantes, etc - it was time for another bedtime reading.  For this one I plucked a book of The Essential Browning off the shelf, one I again had not touched in many years, expecting it to be Elizabeth Barrett.  Instead, it was Robert, and inside we found an inscription from the wonderful woman who gave it to me, for my high school graduation.  

As a book binder, my father sometimes met writers who self published small batches of books, which is how I ended up meeting Clara Lacy Fentress.  She was a kind, gracious mentor with a lighthearted, joyful attitude, whose encouragement I wish I had managed to carry with me for longer.  Also inside the book was a letter from her and two photographs of me at her house. I thought they were hilarious - look at me! look at that outfit oh my goodness - Louise couldn't put them down.  "You look like a teenager!!"  I told her I was a teenager.  Past, meet present.

Could I have imagined, that day, in Mrs. Fentress' parlor, that eventually I would have a daughter?  I remember she had a cat who would promptly make itself comfortable on my lap;  me, allergic, always laughed about it, and now here I am with two cats in my house.  I'm not sure that Louise could articulate her own thoughts and feelings, but she must have had plenty of them because she looked at the photographs for a long time.

So we as mothers are always living in two worlds.  Raising my own child in Texas, just an hour or so away from where I grew up, I am often assailed with memories of my own childhood.  The light, the scent of outdoors through the windows, they are portals to another time, but also part of this time and this reality, her reality.  Our lives are woven into a continuous strand.  

Our journey together, so far, spans 9, nearly 10, years:  three "homes," two states, lots of huge changes. We are both headed for new phases in our lives:  growing phases.  While we are different, we are also the same; just as she mourns the grey hairs on my head, my heart flutters at the knowledge that in another blink of an eye she will be a woman.

2017

2017

February

Right now, when I think about my photography, and my life in general, I feel like this man:  standing next to the car staring at the map, with no idea where to go or what might be next.  

Road trip, 2016

Road trip, 2016

I'm pretty sure that the way I feel about all of it is completely irrelevant, and has no impact whatsoever on the outcome.  Life will send me whichever direction it chooses.  It's a time of flux and transition; a strange year, ripe with change.  I am at a point where I have reached the personal goals I set for myself, and have yet to decide on new ones.  My daughter is growing up before my eyes.  New opportunities, new directions, are coming into all of our lives, and it's a lot to process, probably too much to even try and process. 

I am looking at it, into it, trying to make some sense of my feelings, trying to seek out their source, and glean what wisdom I can from my intuition.  But really, I would probably have just as much luck with a fortune teller.  The wind is blowing.  There's no way to know what it will bring in, or take away, so the best thing to do is not worry and just roll with it.  Hope, and daily joy, lifts us up and carries us along.

All photographs Nikon F and Kodak Tri-x; all but the first one are from Georgetown, TX, during a Film Shooters Collective photowalk.