Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tell Me Again Why We Struggle

Today marks the two week post-surgery mark. I have hit the major milestones with only a few hiccups. The most serious bump in the road occurred over the weekend when I coughed and blew through some of the purse string stitches in my abdominal wound.

Nothing prepares you for the fear of your wound suddenly coming unraveled. The last time we had a complication with my abdominal wound back in 2009, I spent a month in a coma and woke up with my life changed. That fear doesn't go away easily.

As I waited for a call-back from the surgeon's office on Monday morning to find out what they wanted to do about the sutures, I felt my anxiety building. I was starting to feel some of the effects of my PTSD. There is precious little that stops the spiral once that freight trains starts rolling. I had already reached the point where I couldn't articulate my fears in words. I was unable to talk about it on the phone with well-meaning friends and family members. I could feel myself drawing inward... shutting down.

After I heard from the surgeon's office, I was slightly relieved (there was nothing they could do... it just happens sometimes)... but I was also able to reframe how my anxiety was affecting me. I decided to try to capture the frustration, pain, fear and shame photographically.

I will be the first person to admit to being afraid of how I look in front of the camera. I am always ashamed of how fat I look. I never feel like a portrait of me expresses who I am or how I wish I could feel. I have endeavored over the past four years, to use self-portraits as a way to explore ideas for portraiture in general, but also to nail down the technical considerations so that I am better able to explore the artistic / intuitive aspects in the moment. This portrait embodies that exploration. How do I show that fear? How do I express that anxiety? What speaks to that inner terror?

Granted, most of my clients will never ask for a portrait like this... but I think having the skill and sensitivity to capture an image that allows those feelings to come through is certainly worth exploring. It is hard to be vulnerable enough and cogent, simultaneously, while trying to capture/create this sort of an image. I'd love to hear other opinions and ideas for portraits. What portraits have you seen that affected or moved you?


  1. people ask and you answer.
    How are you.
    I am fine.
    Good, good....
    It is hard to tell people that you are not.
    That inside you are a melting mess of nerves.
    That your mind is pinging like a junkie in need of a fix.
    Your thoughts are either racing or you are numb as a stone.
    I love how you give us your self by your photographs.
    Some make me think, some make me look away, some just take my breath.
    I have been working hard to just let things roll.
    I hope that one day you have a day where you do not have to think, you can just be.

  2. Hit the nail right on the head there, Meredith. Thank you for understanding it so well. For that matter, thank you for understanding ME so well. I am honored.

  3. I'm sure you'll disagree (it's your nature) - but great portrait photographers (think Annie Leibovitz) - don't give the client what they ask for. The give the client what they really need. Wally Clark can give you a studio portrait that looks just right on the wall at the Lions Club, but morphing a face into a feeling is a whole nother thing. Clients don't know how to ask for suchathing.

    1. I definitely agree. It isn't something that clients know to ask for. My friend Lee said once that while I am lousy at being a business person, I am good at creating relationships. Those relationships allow for the kind of trust and vulnerability that allow images to be made with great pathos.