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

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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.

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