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Posts tagged ‘black and white’

The Voyager

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This may likely be my last post here until I make my way to my new home and get settled in up north. I came across this passage in a wonderful book I just finished last week, and I knew it was fitting for this moment in my life, and this image:

There is a time known as the between. The between voyager travels through uncharted territory, navigating dangers, attempting passage into the next life. There are times in life, after a death of some kind, when we are open to the slightest shifts, when our powers are acute, when we can change the future. The between voyager temporarily possesses an immensely heightened intelligence, extraordinary powers of concentration, special abilities of clairvoyance… flexibility to become whatever can be imagined, and the openness to be radically transformed by a thought or a vision or an instruction.” – Excerpt from the book I Was Amelia Earhart by Jane Mendelsohn

I can’t deny that, secretly, I love being on the edges of life. I always have. I love that moment when you are looking out into the unknown and part of you is scared, but part of you is ready to hoist yourself out, almost recklessly so. You want to go, to explore and find out what’s out there. Your fears start to diminish as an insatiable curiosity begins to burn and draw you towards the sun. That moment, just before you leap, when the air feels electric and uncertain and powerful. When your legs feel unsteady but your eyes are ablaze with something deep in your soul. It is a moment I have been in love with since I was a child.

In just less than a week now, I will be embarking into uncharted territory. I’ve spent the past few weeks tirelessly going through every box and bag that I own… all of which has sat in storage these past three years since he died. Ironically, yesterday I came across an interesting old photo. It was from the last time I was packing up my entire life, a few months after he died. This picture, showing boxes piled up to the ceiling in my small Dallas apartment, had a timestamp on it for this very same week. I was so shocked. How surreal that on the very same week three years ago, I had just finished packing up my life, and I have just finished doing the same this week. For a moment, two versions of me existed… taking deep breaths in quiet moments on the edges of tomorrow. One is a tomorrow I have lived for the past three years. The other, a tomorrow I do not know yet.

Despite how difficult this journey has been since he died… stepping out into the unknown and allowing life to happen to me was the best decision I ever made. I have learned more about myself and about life than I ever thought possible. I have met so many incredible people – most of which I never would have met had I not taken this chance. I know with much more certainty the things I hold important. Although still in the early stages, I am also now committed to doing meaningful work that matters to myself and helps others.

I don’t quite know who I will be as I enter this new world, nor do I know how this new land will change me. All I know is that I will be changed, and that excites me. I’ve been changing by darkness for years now, and I’m ready to be changed by the light again. Who’s with me?

The Dance

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As I continue in this direction with hands I keep being drawn to… I have found myself suddenly at a powerful intersection of both my work and my life. Since the earliest days of the “Still, Life” series, I have held this image in my heart. It was always meant to be a continuation of the stories told in Hope and Desperation (below). It first came to me at a time when I was seeing a variety of images that included a second figure… a man. Some of these images were meant to speak of a connection to my late-fiance in the spiritual realm, while others were meant to speak of someone else… someone new. I decided hiring a male friend just to capture these stories wouldn’t work. It needed to be real. It needed to actually be the next man in my life. And without even a remote glimpse and no feeling of even desiring someone new yet, I put these ideas aside to wait patiently for that day to come.

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And here we are, arriving at the day this image finally came to be. It is precisely what I imagined for all those many months… except for one thing: the story on the other end. That I could have never known.

The Dance depicts a meeting of souls. That pivotal moment in time when two paths cross in the darkness and a bond is formed. It is the story of brothers, of sisters, of soulmates and friends… each has met desperation and hope in their own way – making them unafraid to see one another in the darkness. In this way, something very powerful and solid is created from the dark places inside us. Such meetings are sacred. For it is the darkness that bonds us to one another in ways we cannot ever bond in the light. It is the tests and trials found here that reveal the truth of a person’s character, integrity, and loyalty. It is the place that changes us, and the place that unites us.

There is something I cannot describe as anything but magic when I think about this image. To have spent so much time with this visual in my head and heart – with no idea when I would ever meet this person or be able to create it – and to now see it made real. And not only to see it, but to now know both stories. To know now what I didn’t know a year ago – that this man’s story would end up being just as important as my own story to the shot.

This soul, who I didn’t even know existed just 4 months ago, matches my own dark journey in a way I could have never imagined. A way I will always wish didn’t exist… because he also endured the death of his love. His beautiful, bright-shining, courageous wife of twelve years. To an agonizing long-term illness. A journey very different to my own sudden loss, but a journey through the darkness nonetheless. As a relationship has begun to unfold between us these past months, I came to know with certainty… he is the one I have been waiting for – to tell this part of both of our stories, and to live this part of my journey.

The Story of Hands

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As a symbol, hands have begun to fascinate me lately. They have so much power to tell the deepest, most primal stories of our humanity. Fear, survival, love, belonging, safety, evolution, history, ability… there so many stories contained within this single element of our bodies.

These images were shot at the end of my last shoot with the calf’s heart, just experimenting and going wherever intuition takes me…

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No 37: Baring Secrets

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“Baring Secrets” speaks to some new and very personal things stirring inside me in the past few months. Most significantly, the ideas of love and vulnerability. I met a man recently who I formed an instant friendship with. From the get go, it was less like meeting for the first time and more like remembering someone I haven’t seen in a very very long time. It is the very same sort of feeling I had when I first met my fiancé.

Being faced with such a connection has left me both thrilled and terrified. Both happy and conflicted. And interestingly enough, I now realize why it took so long for the heart images to come to fruition. I think things were getting in the way on purpose until my heart was in the very space it needed to be to tell this story – until the circumstances of meeting this person came about.

There are stories of fear and bravery here. Stories of the secrets I hold deep within me… the places of pain that no one else sees. Places even I have not dared to venture within myself since my fiance died. Places that I have sewn tightly shut for the past two and a half years. Places that I know – once the stitches are removed – have the potential to be very painful and scary.

So it goes with the heart… with the possibility of allowing someone new into the most sacred parts of ourselves. It is not only for the widowed, but for anyone who risks their heart. Because we have to open up the stitches of old wounds if we’re really going to love and be loved. We have to be willing to bare the secrets that reside in those most private, dark, dirty, worn corners of us if we ever want a chance to feel that beautiful soul-filled unconditional love from another.

It is not easy to open up these deepest wounds. It takes incredible bravery. The open air can be excruciating at times. We have no guarantee that the person who is loosening the stitches will do so gently and with love. No guarantee that they won’t try to rip them out, or seal them shut without a care to heal them. All we can do, is hope, and trust that we chose someone who can do the job right.

God, it is terrifying… so terrifying to let new hands begin to loosen the stitches. Especially when someone else had already done the job so well, years ago. Someone else, who’s death caused new stitches. But… I think, far more terrifying to never let new hands touch the heart. To never try and allow someone to be gentle with me. Because in that, I will never learn that someone new can do the job well, too.

After years of hiding it away, I am finally presenting my heart bravely, and allowing some of those stitches to be loosened. Not all of them, and not all the way. But some, and slowly. Thus far, these new hands have been gentle. They have not tried to open my heart any more than I am ready for. They have not tried to sew the wounds back shut once they saw inside. Instead, they have held my battered heart quietly, with strength – seeming to know that all it needs is to be held, to be seen as fully as it wants to be seen.

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Project Update: Into the Unknown

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There are new things on the horizon, I can see it. New landscapes I’ve yet to explore – within my artistic career and myself. I’ve been feeling it for some time now… and as I sat down today to write week 37 of the series, I somehow ended up with THIS post inexplicably. So I’m deciding to pay attention… to listen to whatever stirrings have finally decided to come out….

Closing One Chapter:
Although I have not reached a full 52 weeks on the project, I have made it a full year of shooting the series. (A few weeks were missed for holidays and bad weather). And so I’ve decided that I will make the informal close of the first year be at week 35. The dates of my last 5 or 6 posts I think will reveal I’ve slowed down things a bit. It’s good, in a way… it is because so much life has been happening. Rushing in quickly since the beginning of the year. Still, Life is happening, indeed.

I never planned on Week 35 to be the closing image, but somehow looking at it now, it feels appropriate. It is about the point in which life truly begins again… the rushing in of life and the reaching out into it. It suddenly feels just right for this image to close one chapter and allow for the next chapter to begin.

I say the “close of the first year” because I’m intending to continue “Still, Life” indefinitely, but at a slower pace. Perhaps one image a month. Or perhaps just organically as life allows room for. I will be working that out out over the coming weeks and months. I’ve still many shots planned for this series and others still unknown that will come – so I’ve no doubt that this is now going to be a series I carry on for a very long time.

Into the Unknown:
As for what lies ahead… there are other things my ambitious heart is yearning to get itself into. It’s a bit terrifying, and I have no idea where it’s going yet, but I’ve got some ideas. I’ve just submitted my first proposal for a public speaking engagement on death and creativity. I want to begin speaking to people about the healing power of creativity, about everything this project has taught me in the past year. About everything I’ve learned over the course of my life about creativity and healing, and the power of death to help us live life more fully. There is so much to share from behind the scenes of this series, and I’m feeling like it’s time to begin making room for that.

Along with public speaking, workshops, articles, and the like… the even bigger project that is calling my name is the “Still, Life” book. I have dreamt of this since I first begin the series. Have held it in my mind and heart all this time. With every image and every word written… with every painstaking hour and uncomfortable position I put myself in for a shot… always, the book was there in the background whispering to me. A physical manifestation of one woman’s voyage… navigating the depths of herself as she lives through death, loss, fear, anger, and despair… coming out the other end more powerful and more alive than ever before.

This is the first time I’ve been so open about sharing of the book. I’m hoping it lands in supportive hearts… I’m having faith that it will be heard by just the right people out there who can help me to make it happen too. I believe in those connections… in opening the door and the right person walking in. I’ve got faith and things to share and I know the right publisher will be found. And the right speaking and writing opportunities will too. If you’re out there read this, and have any advice, ideas, or connections for me, feel free to leave a comment below or message me on my Facebook page. My heart is open, I’m ready for what’s ahead, and I’m all ears.

I want to thank everyone who has been on this journey with me thus far, whether you have been enduring your own journey with death or not. The growth and number of lives this project has touched could not have happened without every one of you. When it’s gotten hard to keep going, just knowing I had an obligation here – with you – kept me pushing ahead. And it will continue to do so as I take my first steps into the next phase of this journey… onward it goes. Thank you all!

Week 36 // Balance

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I’ve been waiting for this image for a long time. Over the past year it has evolved in various forms until the idea of creating a story around heartstrings came up. The original of the idea came from hearing a story about a woman’s near-death experience recently, in which she described leaving her body but seeing literal strings connecting her heart to all the other hearts around her. That clicked for me as the perfect concept for this shot.

I’ve sat with all the images from this shoot for over a week now because so many of them turned out to be very powerful. So much so that I’m thinking I will break it out into its own smaller series – in color. I’ve certainly had a hard time choosing just one for this series, but this is the one that is speaking to me today.

The heart story. Connections, love, vulnerability, tension, fear, courage. The heart is a raw, wild place inside us that we only ever allow a very select few to see. Personally, I like it that way.

There has been, all my life, this constant tension between myself and the outside world. I have lost far too many people in my 32 years to be frivolous about who I attach it to. This isn’t something that has been caused by my fiance’s death, but likely by the death of my mother when I was very young and likely also to the dysfunctional nature of my childhood. I turned inward when she died, and spent much of my time within my own heart and mind. Safe from the pain of losing others. Over time, I became an expert at keeping connections at bay… but in the background, I always knew there was something about this that I didn’t like. It was all too easy to sever ties with most people because I never let them connect to me in the first place.

My fiancé’s love changed all that. He crept into the depths of my heart in ways that I had not allowed anyone else to. His essence wrapped itself around the deepest, darkest, most vulnerable parts of me. There was no fixing, just existing. Together. Wrapped around each other’s darkness. And around each other’s light. I let him all the way in. When he died, I could do nothing but bleed for a very long time. The brokenness made it impossible not to.

So it was his death which actually began to change something in me. In particular, the trauma and shock of how suddenly he died. It ripped my heart right out of my chest. What I didn’t know back then, is that although this meant my heart was now more vulnerable than ever, it also meant that it was more out in the open to receive love. That’s the thing of it – to receive love, to create connections, we must be willing to put our hearts out into the open and risk them being ripped apart.

It’s a terrifying thing. In the past few months, there have been some powerful shifts for me that have led to new challenges. There have been events and people who have come into my world which have pushed me to decide whether I will continue working to keep my heart our there in the world. Beginning to date again, and move into deeper friendships with men again, has been one of the biggest struggles of late. Particularly because it began to present itself so without warning and it has uprooted all sorts of things I had yet to begin to work through.

As I move forward, I’m learning a new balance with the outside world. I am not hiding my heart away like I used to. Finding less need for that now. I am not leaving it out in the open either though. I am holding it close to me, grasped firmly between strong hands – protected, but connected. Allowing others to grab hold of my heartstrings without letting them pull me out of balance. Choosing people who will not want to pull me out of balance. From here, I can loosen or tighten my grip as needed, in order to feel safe. And I can trust others respect that and do the same for themselves. The tension is no longer a negative. It is no longer out of balance on one side or the other, but instead like two equal forces, myself and the hearts of everyone else around me, creating power, energy and stability in the space between us.

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“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. To see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 33 // Point of Return

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I wanted to talk a bit in this post about the idea of claiming yourself again on the journey of grief. It seems, as I am discovering, that there comes a time when you begin to truly be done with the heaviness of grief at its worst. After years of feeling and crying and aching and longing… years of shutting yourself out from the world and from life, years of clawing your way through the mud and fighting for your very life… I think there comes a time when a shift begins to happen. And you begin to return to yourself and to life.

As I was talking to my grief coach this week, I shared something that I’ve struggled with the past three or four months in relation to this project. I explained to him that for several months now – without entirely realizing it – I was moving into a new landscape in my life but was holding back from showing it in the images. Some part of me felt uneasy to show that shift. For me, creating images out of a place of pain is far easier than from a place of strength.

I suppose it has something to do with why so many of us struggle to show our boldest and most bright selves. We are all fighting a fear of shining too bright and of what people will think of us if we do. Beginning to capture the parts of this journey I could never plan – like returning to life – has been a deep struggle for me.

There have been some extremely long months of being in serious battle over each image and the entire project. It wasn’t an internal battle as well – with not wanting to embrace this part of the journey yet. Not wanting to boldly admit that I am feeling healed enough to move toward life again. But as each of the images unfold in the past few weeks – I’m discovering such a deep alignment with exactly where my soul is right now… and I’m seeing how incredibly healing and beautiful it is to fully own wherever I am.

This week’s image ties back to several other shots in the series in a very prominent way. Visually it ties very closely to Week 15: Surrender. That image was representative of letting ourselves sit within our pain and perhaps give that pain to some higher force.This week speaks of surrender too, but in a little different way. Not surrender into the pain, but instead, surrender into the life that is left.

The other image that it ties to in a very major way is Week 19: Between Two Worlds. That image spoke of feeling torn between two worlds – the life I have now and the life I had with him, as well as this earthly life and the beyond. It was about being caught in the middle of the tension of all of those worlds.

This week, there is something very different going on with those boundaries within me. There is a feeling of lightness stirring in me that hasn’t been there before. A feeling that I am moving more fully into life again, stepping above the darkness and returning to myself.

I cannot express how impossible it all seemed two and a half years ago that I would be coming to a point like this. And more importantly, for it to feel okay. I feel assured that he will be as much with me in the skies of a new life ahead as he was in the landscape of our life together. Simply put, it is feeling strangely okay to live life again. To fill my world with everything there is left in life and not worry that it will mean he is less a part of it all. I’ve feared that for so long… but gently, slowly, over time, I’ve come to see it isn’t the case at all. He goes wherever I go. He will always be my wings, bringing me back to myself.

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“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. To see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.

Week 32 // Standing on Faith

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The past few weeks have been, for me, some of the most pivotal in the series. Some very drastic changes have occurred. It runs incredibly deep because I don’t plan any of this out… they are merely visual representations of what is happening and where I’m at.

The most crucial event has been losing the dress that I planned to use in the entire series. It has forced me out of a comfort zone I had landed in. And with the loss triggering the feelings of losing him so suddenly – it shook me awake in a way I needed. I was becoming complacent, going for the safe shots, even ignoring some of the best shots because of the time and effort they would require. It was the kick in the gut I needed… the moment that would ask of me, “And now, what are you going to do? Give up? Or push harder, and dream bigger, and find a new way?” It is precisely the question I felt asked of me when he died.

I decided to find a new way.

With the exception of my trip to Hawaii, the entire series has been photographed on the ranch my fiancé’s parents own… the place he grew up. Where my feet have walked, also have his over many years before me. There are often moments when I’ve hiked about just wondering if his feet ever stood in the exact place mine were in at that moment. Other moments still where my feet stand where we both once stood. There has always been something deeply spiritual about it – something that connected me to him in a very real way.

But, as with all journeys, there comes change. There comes a time to move forward. A time not to forget – but to remember from a different vantage point… one in which you can begin to know the new unknowns as you continue to explore the old ones. And I can say with whole-heartedness that – after 7 long months of recording (and living through) some of the most painful parts of the journey of loss – I am ready for a new landscape… for the series, and for my soul.

I am ready for the unknown in a way I haven’t been before. It feels strange to say this when I have no clue how I got here. There will still be healing to be done. My grief will go with me. But it is time to explore someplace new now, too. I feel it in my bones. The beach has proved to be just that. The beach where I grew up, to be exact. We built many beautiful memories in both of these locations – his childhood landscape and mine. It feels like reconnecting to that other half of the world we shared to be shooting at the beach now. It also feels like reconnecting with my own past which came well before him. Both of my parents are buried here in my hometown. And many of my memories. And I wonder how on earth it has taken me so long.

As a result of moving into a new landscape, I am finding myself rejuvenated with creative energy too. New creative challenges… like the expansive white skies – which required me to change from wearing white to black (initially a technical decision, which has yet again become symbolic). And I’m feeling very strongly drawn to more silhouetted versions of my figure – dark against the light, instead of lightness amidst the dark. It displays a shift from innocence, to strength – which is precisely the experience beginning to move through me internally.

I want to close this post with a memory. Five years ago, on the very beach where this week’s photo was taken… a pair of feet stood next to mine. It was a hot, humid summer night in May. He and I were best friends then – just on the edge of a friendship becoming more. We went out to the beach that night to star gaze, and as we walked the beach, we looked out into the blackness of the ocean. It was so ominous… a deep, inky black. We imagined and laughed how there could have literally been a giant squid or a sea monster ten feet in front of us – that water was so black in the night that you’d have never seen the beast.

And then we just stood there for a long time, our feet planted firmly – facing right out into this ominous unknown landscape. Quietly strong together.

In that moment, I remembered thinking that this was the sort of partnership I wanted to have. Someone who would stand beside me, feet planted, ready to take on whatever was out there in the unknowns of the future. I remember knowing in my bones for the first time what a true partner was, and that I had found him.

I always wished back then that I knew as much about photography as I do now. That I could go back to the ghosts of us both on that beach and photograph that moment in time. But it is there in my heart, and always will be. And it has led me to this week’s image… which is part of that story. Another version of it. Not realizing until after I shot this – It feels as if the reflection of my own feet planted in the sand are meant to be him reflecting back at me. And that really, he is never very far away. It is my faith in this and in myself which roots me most strongly for the unknown ahead. No one we love who dies is ever far away I believe…. They are right beneath us and within us, helping to anchor us and guide each step forward we take.

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