Musings

requiem for an enigma

This is a story about a girl who’s been called an enigma her whole life. And who very much realizes she is one, even to herself.

The truth is that I don’t fit well into any one box. I have already lived multiple lifetimes and most would consider these out of the usual order. Few would guess the things I have lived through, both good and bad. I am always honest, sometimes to a fault, but don’t feel the need to share everything. I don’t consider myself defined by anything external, and therefore I float easily between worlds and have a very diverse group of friends. I feel I belong everywhere and nowhere.

I was a child who grew up in her own head because I felt dissonance between the world I was born to and who I was. I was not affirmed, so I learned to affirm myself. I outwardly conformed to many things in order to feel safe but inwardly I stoked a hotbed of rebellion. I questioned everything, believed in everything and nothing. I was a risk taker and somewhat reckless. I still am. I ran outside in thunderstorms and tornados to experience their power and dared God to strike me down. I was in two major car accidents but I still drive much too fast. I learn from experience, and yet even after being burned I will take the same risks over and over. I am probably one of the most resilient people you will meet. Some might say headstrong.

I love power when it is used for good, but I hate the spotlight; I prefer subtle influence. I am a romantic and a perfectionist and tend to be a little idealistic. I am a passionate and sensual person, and highly attuned to my own body. When I love, I love with complete abandon, but my trust is not easy to win. I open up slowly, layer by layer, but try to force me open and I flee. I only ever give what I want to give, and I expect no more from anyone else. By the same token, I consider my greatest gift my intuition, and I likely know a lot more about you than you think I do.

I’m fierce and exacting about what I want from myself and my work. I’m obsessed with quality because I care deeply that people have a good experience. I will lose sleep if I feel someone I care about is not happy. I look up to no one and down on no one. I love human beings and I want to understand them. I crave depth. I ask questions of everyone because I need to make sense of the stories I see around me. Everyday life plays out to me like a movie, and every person and thing an interesting and complex character I want to know beneath their layers. I try to discover the soul in everything I see, no matter whether it’s a rock or a person. Photography has been a way for me to do this.

I am a deeply spiritual person. I believe in God and in Jesus, and I felt closest to him in a Catholic cathedral where my senses completely flooded. But I as well believe in reincarnation and many of my beliefs relate to different pieces of different religions. I dread people asking me certain questions, like: what is your faith? What is your political persuasion? What’s your favorite this or that? Because these questions I can’t answer. I have no favorites. I have many things I love and appreciate equally. I put things together and create my own version, but I enjoy entertaining other viewpoints.

I love to dress up. I have owned fabulous dresses that I never had occasion to wear. I would happily live in ball gowns every day. And yet I feel equally myself in sweats and a baseball cap. I am comfortable in many different hats. I know how to hunt and clean a deer and I also know how to mingle at a fancy party. I’m a good sharpshooter and archer. I have perfect color vision. I compose music and play piano by ear. I love decorating, but I change up my style every 2 years.

I am descended from both a notorious pirate and an English queen. I also come from peasants who kept warm in the winter by sitting in cow dung. I am fascinated by all cultures and I want to absorb them, eat them, wear them on my body. I don’t want to just travel and see places. I want to become everywhere I go. I am sometimes frustrated that the color of my skin, or the language I speak prevent me from completely fitting in. I feel a constant need to experience the full spectrum of human existence. This makes me always very restless.

My greatest fear is one I already know will come true, and that is reaching the end of my life and not having lived all of the lifetimes I believe I was meant to live. I don’t know if I will ever score that film, or write that book, or be an infamous spy, or dig up buried treasure. But I have such an ache inside of me to be so many things, to do so much more than I think I will ever have the capacity to do.

yin x yang

I believe in the principle of yin and yang - that all things have a counterbalance and a complement. Yin and yang might seem contradictory individually, but when the right two come together, they form perfect harmony. They emphasize the individuality and the other-ness of their counterpart. They neither take anything away nor add to the other, yet the marriage of the two creates something beautiful and profound.

For me as an artist, and being so focused on color, this concept carries into my work as well. Every color has an opposite that is very different, but complementary. And every photograph that speaks to me is a yin waiting for its yang. Many times its match is not always the obvious, it’s more based on feeling.

My photograph Conception (below left) has always been my personal favorite photo. This was the first photo I exhibited (at the UNICEF art show in LA). It was shot in the winter of 2016 during my 365 project and it represents, to me, birth, the womb, a journey. When I look at it I feel as though I’m moving towards the beginning of life, and this mysterious light is the entry point.

This summer I was traveling to the airport into the sunset, and the sky lit up with the most glorious light display. It moved me so much that I pulled my car off the highway and took a photo (luckily I had my camera with me). The resulting image on the right is the yang to my yin. It’s called Consummation and it’s about the beauty of endings. I look at it and I see a celebration of completion. So often we feel the need to think of what’s beyond an ending (like the afterlife when a loved one dies, or hope after a relationship dissolves). But an ending in itself is beautiful.

These two photos will forever be paired in my mind - yin and yang, beginning and end, winter the summer, cold and warmth, darkness and light, Conception and Consummation.

a thank you to the leica m9

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Leica M9, my digital camera of choice for the last almost-6 years (January 2014). I got a little nostalgic today thinking about the many places it’s been with me and what it’s seen. I have shot about 13,000 images with my M9. I found my perfect lens (the Summilux 50mm 1.4) which I never took off again. I documented every single day of my life with it in 2016 during my 365 project. My M9 captured the portraits of strangers and loved ones, it chronicled beginnings and endings. It came with me hiking in the wilderness, and walked the streets with me of the world’s largest cities. I experimented with all sorts of light, subject matter, and editing styles until I found what made it sing to me. It braved hurricanes and blizzards, it traveled through countless x ray machines and was thrown into tote bags and handbags and many different camera bags. It fell off a chair once and crashed on a tile floor - I have a dent in my lens hood to prove it. I cursed at the write speeds, and I cried over the sensor replacement because I was so afraid it would lose its soul (it didn’t).

No other camera can render light and color like the M9 if you shoot it the way it likes to be shot. But it requires a lot of persistence to understand what it likes. You have to treat it like a being with its own mind. If your minds match, it can be a magical partnership.

This camera has been my sidekick as I journeyed to find my artistic voice in photography. It was the camera that was with me when I disconnected from “likes” and found the only “like” that mattered was my own. It’s not only given me the best images I’ve ever made, it’s become an indelible part of how I see. How my M9 translates the world is the language I’ve come to speak with my pictures. The soul of this camera has become a mirror of my own.

on being human

It makes me sad that in our culture we glorify the “brave face”. We are so uncomfortable with suffering. How was your day? we ask. How have you been? And if we are honest enough to say we had a really bad day, or it’s been hard lately, we feel compelled to follow up with saying it’s part of the job, or that’s how life is, or put some positive spin on it, like how we’re learning some good life lessons or in the big picture it’s not all that important. We might say “others have had it worse” and try to diminish what we feel. We put on the smile and show how much faith we have, how brave and how strong we are. You’re a fighter! people say admiringly, as if it’s all about winning and losing.

It takes more strength to be vulnerable than to be strong. Pain and failure are not weakness, and a brave face is not strength. It takes immense courage to show someone else our suffering - to let them see into the darkest corners of our lives, to tell them we’re hurt, or sad, and let it sit right there where it is - without diminishing it or making it ok for ourselves or anyone else. I think this is where healing begins.

Being human means that we experience all of the facets of existence - suffering as well as joy, failure as well as success. Why are we all so afraid to be human?

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
— Washington Irving

truth

Many of us live our lives very publicly in today’s world. The internet and social media have made it possible for us to share our everyday thoughts, feelings, spaces, opinions, relationships and decisions with complete strangers. As time goes on I see this as more and more of a danger; part of the truth may be left in the shadows. In that respect we only really know half (at best) of someone’s story, and so often we judge what we read or see on the surface without truly understanding.

Assume the compassionate view of others, if in doubt. Every one of us is trying our best, and light and darkness are both part of our stories.