Documentary Photography + My 33rd Birthday
I debated for awhile on where to share this - because it's mostly personal, but also about photography... so I decided this would be a good place.
Birthdays always throw me into a fit of self reflection and twisty, existential thoughts. Who am I? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? It's good stuff, but a bit deeper than the typical cheery social media update. Thank you to everyone who dropped by to wish me well - your words were certainly heard as I made my way through my head and heart.
When I visited Phoenix in April, I found a stack of Polaroids from 1989. Yep - a loooong time ago. They were nonchalantly sitting on a shelf in the back bedroom of my dad's house, and I promptly found myself flipping through the images. They were incredible - pieces of my childhood, right there for me to hold. I mentioned the stack to my dad, and he said he'd send them to me since I liked them so much.
What I didn't realize, is that he was sending me e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Three large boxes arrived at our door a few days before my birthday, and it's all of the family pictures. All of the albums. All of the processing envelopes. All of the Polaroids. All of it.
As a documentary photographer, I'm sure you can imagine my reaction... but it was more intense than I expected (probably because they are MY history - they might not mean much to you as a casual observer, but to me... it's remarkable), particularly on the eve of my birthday (when I'm already prone to deep reflection).
I've heard my own birth story hundreds of times... but I've never seen these particular images before. They brought home how scary it must have been to have me go into distress, have an emergency c-section, for me to be only 5 lbs, 11 oz but still have to undergo a spinal tap to ensure no infection was putting me at risk after delivery... these images hit me in the heart. That's me right there.
It comforts me to know that people have taken the same kinds of pictures of their babies for as long as cameras have been around. I took pictures just like these of my own boys when they were babies, marveling at their arrival, at their formation, at how perfectly wondrous they were. These two pictures above were more never-before-seen pictures by me, and I'm overwhelmed by them. (I also am curious to know who took them - they are so good!)
I can see myself in that tiny baby. It's incredible - my nose, my lips. And I just kept on growing.
I've loved animals forever. I've loved babies and kids forever. I've smiled the same way forever.
I hung out in the garage with my dad. I had pigtails. I loved swimming (and apparently testing out the new canoe someone got for Christmas). I had a freaking awesome 4th birthday at McDonald's. These moments remind me as a mother that it's not the brand names, it's not the Pinterest-worthy, perfectly curated parties or events... it's the real, everyday love and presence that matter most.
I'm sure everyone goes through this, but once people have passed away... all you have are the pictures and memories. And hopefully someone to share those pictures and stories with. My brother and I were beyond lucky to have our maternal grandparents as cornerstones of our childhood. We were at their house pretty much every day from birth until I was about 12 years old. They helped me become who I am today, and even though Grandma passed away in 2012 and Grandpa in 2015... it hits me at odd moments - that they're gone. That I can't share my Thanksgiving dinner snafus or my gardening wins with them. That maybe I missed out on calling or visiting more often - that I hope I was able to show them how much I loved them, even as a punk young adult.
As we packed the boxes of pictures safely in a waterproof container to store in our crawlspace, I told Alan: "I'm just going to go through one stack of pictures before we put these away." Clearly, I went through more than one stack (sorry babe), because we're jumping ahead here.
We went on adventures often as a family. Camping, driving, exploring through Arizona. I'm so thankful to my family for the variety of experiences we shared together. For helping me learn about the world and helping me to be my best, whatever that looked like.
I know sometimes my parents doubt themselves, as I doubt myself as a mother. But I can tell you with no hesitation - they did an incredible job. I can't know all the struggles and challenges they went through as young parents. I have kind of an idea, now that I have two sons of my own.
I am beyond grateful for the life I've lived until this point - loved and supported by my mother and father, loved and put up with by my little brother, loved and encouraged by friends and family through all my endeavors. Finding my husband, and working beside him to create a life for ourselves and our sons that will one day be told in our own pictures.
There's no way of knowing what this next year holds in store, but I'm hopeful that it will be my brightest year yet. I am learning so much about myself and my voice & place in this world - who I am, what I have to offer, how I can serve.
Welcome, 33. I'm glad you're here.