Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.
– Yoko Ono
I remember how you began, on a puddly, slushy-wet-snow day much like today. You were gray and gloomy, and I walked around our little house at the coast of Maine with my camera, nervously, not knowing what to photograph or how to photograph it, and wondering if I had made a terrible mistake in committing to a year long project.
Those first few weeks, you pulled the rug out from under my feet and let me fall, but you didn’t let me fall too hard – just hard enough that I would learn how to accept myself better, let go a little more and face my insecurities and my fears rather than hiding from them. I found out how to be playful in my photography again, to separate my creative work from outside influence and focus on my own self expression. I found a way of seeing that became my own. I didn’t like all of my images this year, but the ones that I liked really spoke to me like nothing I had done before. When I look at them, I see myself in them. I hear the music I like to play, see the words I like to write, and I feel how my heart turns to water, pours itself into these pictures and looks back at me.
Every day of you so far, I have recorded in photographs and words. There were wonderful days, when my heart felt so content and at peace, and dark days when I was sad or disappointed. There were days where I had time to think, and rest, and and others where I was running from one thing to the next or working long days at my desk without a break. There were days when I saw photographs bursting around me like bright fireworks and I could barely click the shutter fast enough to capture them. There were others where I saw nothing, where I hunted and still found nothing, and the last light left, and I took a picture of something I wouldn’t have otherwise only because I needed to. There were days where I cried because you were very unfair, and days where I could have kissed you for joy that I had the privilege to be alive in you.
You tested me this year, and sometimes I felt my roots slipping. Like the little pine tree by the ocean, I felt the exhilaration of being in the thick of your storms, bending to the wind. I remembered my place. I didn’t choose a safe life in the forest, protected, hidden, with nets beneath me. I chose to experience my life on the brink, the way I knew I was meant to live it, because with all of the risk in doing so came all of the glorious wonders that I have seen with my eyes, touched with my hands, felt with my heart.
I am home, and I would choose this place again a thousand times.
I wonder what I will be doing photographically next year.
This project has led me to a completely different landscape creatively. Like Johnny, my project has been about moving countries too, but more figuratively than literally. When I look at my work from a year ago it feels as though I was in an entirely different place. It hasn’t just changed a little; it’s that those pictures are not even something I recognize as my own anymore.
Was it I who changed, or was this way of seeing in me all along, trapped beneath my fear?
One of my greatest inhibitions as a photographer is feeling as though I am violating someone else’s privacy when I take a picture. I’m extremely sensitive to this myself, so I think this causes me to project a lot into situations and on other people.
I remember when Johnny and I were in California, and a group of nuns were sitting at a table next to us at a Mexican restaurant. It was a scene you would only see once. Eight nuns around a big table, rosaries around their necks, eating tacos and laughing. I wanted that picture so badly, but I was so afraid to take it. I thought to myself, what if they just want to eat their dinner in peace, without being stared at or photographed like they are some kind of oddity? Eventually Johnny convinced me that I needed to take the picture, so I stood up and went to their table and asked if I could photograph them. They were very happy to oblige, and smiled for the camera, and I took their business cards and sent them a copy of the photo later. But the uneasy feeling never really left me that I had taken more away from them than I had given back.
A similar situation happened a few months ago when Johnny and I were staying in Round Pond. We were taking an evening walk past some little cottages, all lit up from the inside. There was one very tiny little house, not more than one room on the main floor and one room above. Through a large front window you could see an old grandpa smoking a pipe, sitting at a desk and writing. He was perfectly framed by the light and his wife was sitting in a chair nearby reading. I felt such an urge to take that picture and preserve the scene in my memory, but it felt wrong. How dare I just take a moment for myself that belonged to them? They weren’t sharing it with me.
Just because I see it, is it given?
I realize that this is probably a dilemma most photographers face who shoot documentary or street – and I am probably a little over the top with my sensitivity about it. It’s something I am still working on resolving internally, finding what I feel is the line between right and wrong, between when a picture is something I am gifted, and when it is something I take.
I took this picture tonight because I liked how the house next door was lit up with candles in the windows and a Christmas wreath on the door. Only afterwards did I see that in one picture, this older woman leaned into view in the front window. She will probably never know that someone outside in the dark took a photograph of her, sitting in her warm house. Does it matter? Is it ok? I don’t know. But I do know that I wouldn’t like this picture the same without her, and that it speaks home to me.
We drove some of our family back to the airport today. It was the most beautiful weather, sunny and a bit warm – more like spring than winter. I was happy for a little break from the cold and ice.
While I named my project A Very Good Year, 2016 has in fact been a very difficult year. George Michael died on Christmas Day, and today Carrie Fisher died. So many greats of our time left this year. Muhammed Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Gene Wilder and so many others. It feels a bit strange to say good-bye to so many icons of my lifetime. Time moves forward and our world changes, whether we are prepared for it or not.
Somehow I had pictured the last week of my 365 differently. A kind of sailing triumphantly to the finish line, surrounded by holiday cheer and festive things to photograph, excited to post the last few days and complete the project. Instead I feel like a runner at the end of a marathon. I feel creatively exhausted and it has taken so much of my willpower to see these last weeks through, to keep taking pictures even when I don’t see them around me, much less feel like looking for them.
Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.
– The Polar Express
A placid scene on a not-so-placid day.
We made it back home safely, it snowed a little, and the gang’s all here. So many reasons to be happy.