That’s how I feel at the moment, like I am finally coming home again.
In the lead up to what has come to be known as my total implosion two years ago I stopped shooting (photography). My business collapsed and I couldn’t even work in the charity I had built from the ground up (a photography charity). Then I stopped picking up my camera all together. After I got out of hospital I took a handful of shots of the girls in a bright moment and then a few days later had to sell all my top of the line gear as it was christmas, I had bankrupted the business…and us in the process…and it was the only thing we had of value to sell. I still had a few cameras, but they were all film and required too much effort. Reality is though, I couldn’t have sat down to a digital image anyway….I just wasn’t ready.
one of the last shots I took in September 2010
From those last photos I took of the girls I didn’t pick up a camera again until the end of last year, when I got a new iPhone. It had been almost 14 months since I had shot anything and we went to visit some friends in the country. There was an old abandoned house she wanted to take photos of and wanted some help with her camera. Those who know me from my photography days know breaking into abandoned places to shoot was old hat for me…usually dragging clients along for the ride. While we were there I started taking some shots with the phone. We had great fun until someone threatened to call the cops – I just pleaded ignorance like I always did (a very wise photographer once said “ask forgiveness, not permission”). When I got home I pulled some of the images up on my computer and was kind of blown away. I bought the original iphone 3g the day it came out in aus. It was great for a camera phone…but sucked as a camera (if that makes sense). But the iphone 4 was so clear and crisp.
abandoned house in rural vic
A little spark came back. Up until I saw those images I really thought everything I had learnt was gone, any bit of creativity of talent I had was gone – along with my career. But these images gave me hope. Maybe one day I could shoot again. Maybe one day I could pick up a real camera. But I still wasn’t even close to being well. Looking at my film cameras made me sick. I felt an impending sense of doom and dread when I loaded photoshop. I wasn’t ready.
Instead I busied myself with reducing the medication that had amputated my love of life, photography and any creativity I had. I busied myself in homeschool. In healing my body. In learning to run. Then I had a massive backslide, which in one stupid move, ended up giving me my life back. The CAT team did little for me emotionally or mentally. But they did prescribe me a sleeping pill that seems to have given me back to my family & myself. I hadn’t slept properly in 21 years (I was diagnosed with chronic insomnia when I was just nine years old). The medications I had been given all sedated me, but never gave me any sleep. They left me hung over and unable to function the next day. These ones put me to sleep, but then stop working. If I miss my window (by trying to do other things) then I can’t sleep until I take them again. I wake up 6-8 hours after taking them like an internal alarm clock has gone off. All of a sudden I am a morning person. A pleasant person. I don’t go to pieces when things fall apart. I smile. I laugh. I live.
I pretty much forgot all about photography until hubby remembered I had put two rolls of film, my first rolls from my holga, in to be developed two years ago. I actually dropped them off on a day release from hospital. He picked them up and was nice enough to grab me a roll of replacement film, just in case. He came home again and we were busy with dinner and bed times and all the other fun stuff that happens between 3:30pm and 9pm when you’re a parent.
He bought in the film disks…I didn’t even remember requesting a CD instead of prints. So I popped it in the computer. Colour film first and was greeted to a sea of pink. The Holga (a plastic toy camera) I shot the film with is notorious for it’s unpredictability and it’s light leaks. As I had never tried more than two rolls (shot one after the other in a few days three years ago) I didn’t know what to expect of mine. But in the pink haze I fell in love with photography all over again…especially film photography.
This shot moves me. It’s hard to explain, I guess, if you don’t know the children in the photo. Miss H is kissing Miss A…this NEVER happens. Miss H is the dominant twin and also the less affectionate of the two. Every photo I have of the two of them it is Miss A lavishing love and affection on her twin. I knew I could pull it into photoshop and “save” it. I could colour & exposure correct it, hell turn it black & white and avoid most of the issues entirely. But why? It is so perfectly imperfect that I just couldn’t. I want it on my wall. I look at it and tear up.
It is the opposite of the work I was known for. I shot “edgy” stuff in regards to the backgrounds. I took clients and their families to dirty, grimey, beautifully dirty places and took beautiful photos of their children and families. I retouched scrapes and double chins. I airbrushed imperfections. I even filled in a gap in a childs tooth once (by request). None of those photos were real. I prided myself on the non-cheesy grin, as I spent up to 3-4 hours with each family getting to know them. I made their kids genuinely laugh…but the rest, well it was rarely real. I got closer to real in wedding photography. Always surveying the crowd, looking for intimate, special, one off moments to capture. But they always went home with the grinning group photo on their wall. Toward the end it’s no wonder I burnt out. I don’t think I was doing what I loved any more.
I remember the first time I KNEW I was a photographer. The first time a photo I took moved me to tears. Miss 11 was four years old. It had been a rough few years. Things had been so ridiculously hard with her aspergers and at the time chronic OCD (which was being treated by a specialist at the childrens hospital). It was a time of tears and frustration. A time when our daughter couldn’t maintain eye contact with any one. Her father couldn’t cope and the other three kids avoided her like the plague. It was just me and her. I was learning on my new digital SLR. She would sometimes sit and let me take photos (other times she would just scream at me). Then I got this shot…
for a moment, she looked right at me
When I opened it up the tears came. I had proof. She had looked at me and the stars aligned so I could record it forever. It still makes me cry. It was the start of a new life for her and me. She blossomed soon after this. Had friends. Started to socialise, to talk, to make eye contact. I showed anyone who would look this photo. I put it on her birthday invitation. Which led to people asking me to take photos of their kids. This moment, frozen in time, opened a whole new chapter in my life. Overnight I had a business. I had a calling. I felt useful. I was providing my family with money, I was enjoying my “job”, I hung out with kids all day and their awesome families. I met new people, learnt new things. Up until then I was a stay at home mum with four kids under five, in a city I had never been before, with no friends, no family and every single day was hard and horrible. This photo changed everything.
But as a perfectionist, I guess it was only a matter of time before it almost killed me. Always in search of the perfect shot. The perfect light. The perfect moment. When I decided I needed more photos of my kids I dragged them out and spent the whole time yelling and screaming (the exact opposite of the way I dealt with clients kids). It got to the point that when the kids saw the work camera come out they would cry, run away….or both. I always loved the simple old shots their dad would get on his mobile phone or on his point & shoot camera. I was missing out on capturing the stuff everyone has of their childhood. It was too much stress. Even the shots I do have are buried somewhere on a hard drive because I shot like I would for work – lots of photos & in RAW format…meaning I needed to put in the same hours to finish a family shot as I would a whole wedding.
My charity work was the opposite of perfect. We were the ones called when a child or baby was dying. When the families needed something, anything. I sat with families as their children took their last breath, and documented it for them. The hardest thing about not being apart of this organisation any more is that I knew I was doing my lifes work. What I was born to do. It was all real and there was no audience beyond the family. While I felt run down and exhausted with my paying clients (and with the admin of the charity) I never felt that way when I was working for the charity. A lot of people assume it was this work that burnt me out, that pushed me towards a nervous breakdown. But it did the opposite. It gave me hope. It made me strive to be a better parent. To try to cherish every moment. I miss it every day….which probably makes me sound like a total freak. But imagine finding your lifes purpose and then loosing it. Imagine finding something you can do amazingly and then not being able to any more. It is probably a big part of the reason I stopped shooting entirely.
But deep down…I was still a perfectionist. I would still scrub the house from top to bottom before a visitor (or I would meet them somewhere else). I still struggled to do any school with the girls until everything was printed, bound and perfectly organised. I still couldn’t buy groceries unless we had an entire meal plan for the week. I couldn’t leave the house unless I looked “perfect”…which never happened, so I didn’t leave the house. I didn’t shoot because I didn’t have a top of the line digital SLR and working photoshop. I fell back on the medication excuse … that I got hand tremors and couldn’t hold a camera, which hadn’t been true in over a year. I didn’t want to produce substandard results…even if it was just me who was going to see them. I couldn’t fail AGAIN. So it was easier not to try.
my backyard (three houses ago) three years ago…when I was busy living
By the time I got the the b&w roll I was relieved. Maybe it didn’t have to be perfect. After all, when I considered my life to be perfect this was how my backyard looked. I was never perfect. I may have tried to cultivate that image by only showing people the glossy, beautiful, airbrushed side….but it was never perfect. I tried too hard and subsequently everyone was shocked when I lost it. How could someone so “together” fall apart so chronically. Only my husband (and my kids) knew how imperfect and fragile I was.
That’s part of why I started this blog. I needed somewhere to not be perfect. Until I could stand anywhere, with anyone and just *be*, I needed to force all my shit out there. As such this blog became a place where I was the most flawed.
I found it liberating.
In the ruins of my old life, I have found a new one. But finding photography again, freed from the shackles of perfection, is …. beautiful/special/overwhelming/amazing/scary/perfect
My favourite image from my b&w roll was one of my eldest daughter. The only one of the girls who relished “model” time in front of the camera. She regularly offered her services when photography workshops were run by people we knew. She has a knack for being impeccably groomed, knowing just how to smile, how to make the light work for her. This shot is her, and me. It is her being imperfect and not liking it. She is after all, my daughter. She has the same tendency to wan everything to be perfect. To refuse a photo unless she looks just right. To not want to spell anything she doesn’t know in case she makes a mistake. To not want to perform unless she is sure she knows all the moves in case it’s not just right. And it’s this image of her that I adore….
Another one I would love to frame and hang on the wall…of course I would then have to put up with death stares and tantrums until I took it down and replaced it with something more like this
After I went through my film photos and fell in love with the imperfectness of them all …. I went online and purchased a pack of polaroid film from the impossible project (when the polaroid film company shut down a group of polaroid enthusiasts bought the last factory and are now making limited edition polaroid films for all polaroid cameras). It arrived just two days later and so I took out my Polaroid Impulse (found at an opshop for $5) and loaded it. The battery for the camera is located in the film cartridge so I got the shock of my life as everything whirred and clicked. It then proceeded to spit out a photo of nothing….it was just blue. I tried to figure out something to take a picture of and decided my bedside table would be a winner. Still not getting it I tided it up and staked my books neatly.
I couldn’t quite figure out what went wrong. I loved the faded colour, the cool tone (even though I normally would warm up any of my photos I used to shoot) and even the terrible focus and blurriness…but the subject itself, blah. I need to remove the giant pole I have had up my backside since I was born. So in an attempt to show just how imperfect I am this is my bedside table in it’s….more natural state.
My “real” bedside table
Next to my bedside table is my tray – I eat most of my meals in bed still. In the drawer are sleeping pills, pain killers, spare glasses, polaroids, notebooks and a polaroid camera as I ran out of room on the bedside table. On the table itself is my real pile of books that I am about to read, cameras piled up as I try to find film for them (my brownie is 60+ years old…film isn’t easy to come by), My glasshouse Marseille candle, an empty protein bar packet, empty glass & water bottle. Behind that is my vase & flowers (made by my daughters – origami flowers) including the toy flower won by hubby for me at luna park. Behind that is our fan that I really use as an extra bedside table – on top is magazines, the lamb hubby won me at luna park, my heart rate monitor box & in front of that is my yoga mat. What you can’t see is the pile of rubbish next to my bed, the two piles of books I need to put into our goodreads account and the piles of books to go back to the library in front of that. My bed is unmade (and really the doona cover should have been changed a month ago), I’m still in my pj’s, the house is a mess and our CERES box (organic fruit & vege box) is sitting unpacked on the kitchen table (next to the kids who are currently making their own books). The floor is covered in bits of paper and dust and muddy footprints (thanks to soccer going back this week). But for once these things don’t upset me. The kids are all happy, I am playing with cameras and exploring something I love and my hair fits in a pony tail again (it is also red as I have dyed it again after months of not caring).
I feel content. At ease. I want to photograph that. Just not sure how.
While I try to figure that out I want to introduce you to my partners in crime!
Betsy – a six-20c Box Brownie made in 1948 and the oldest in my collection (I have also had her the longest)
Amy – Canon AE-1 35mm camera from 1976 (my most recent acquisition, also the exact model I learnt to shoot on all those years ago)
Megan – Polaroid Impulse from 1988, rescued from an op shop a few years back
Olivia – a Holga 120GN plastic toy camera, my baby circa 2009
Now I just need to purchase some film for the first three and get back out and shoot!