I’ve been thinking lately about my photography, my life, my interests and what ties it all together…what leads to me making the pictures that I do? … and is this really interesting to anyone?
I started babysitting when I was 9 (curiously and coincidentally the same age I first remember making photographs with intent). My first real nanny position was when I just turned 18, I moved in with my best friend’s sister to help out with her new born daughter. She gave me a stack of book to read and that was it, I was totally engaged. I was reading about parenting techniques, theories and ideas but I immediately saw how it all related to people of any age and found all my time spent with kids to be an ongoing opportunity to learn about people, how we become who we are, how are brains work and how we make sense of ourselves and the world. I continued to watch kids for years and still do on and off.
My fascination with people and how we become who we are continued, and when I was an undergraduate at the University of Arizona I got interested in the Women’s Studies program. I spent a lot of time reading and thinking about how we identify ourselves and the people around us, specifically in terms of gender – this being one of the first, if not the first thing decided about who we are. I was also working as a nanny for a number of families over those years. I wasn’t making many photographs at the time, a few of the kids I knew but nothing that explored the ideas I was thinking about directly.
A few years after I completed my degree, I spent a summer in Maine at the Photographic Workshops. It was a pretty dramatic change, going from the desert in Tucson to the strange landscape of Maine. The area looked to me like the pictures you find on jigsaw puzzles of quiet green landscapes, a world I had never seen before.
For six weeks of the summer I lived with a group of fellow work-study students, sharing a tiny room in a house full of people. We were around each other 24 hours a day, which was a huge change for me who was used to living and working alone. Every day we looked at pictures, talked about pictures and made pictures. It was great. It was also a lot to get used to. As the weeks went on, I found myself making pictures in an attempt to ground myself. Often the pictures were of myself; other times they were quiet spaces I had found. It was like the click of the shutter could root me to the ground or something. I think this is a thread that runs through the photographs I made that summer – grounding and taking a look at myself, literally.
A year later, when I arrived in Chicago for graduate school I had no idea what I was going to photograph. I started out occasionally taking pictures of myself and I was finding myself drawn to any open space I came across in the city, empty lots, abandoned parking lots, etc. I’m sure this was a result of finding myself in a much more crowded and noisy city than I was used to and perhaps another attempt at using the camera to ground myself. The pictures I made were all right but not yet engaging my curiosity or interest.
Around this same time, I was driving to Minneapolis every other month to visit my niece, Stella. She was about 2 years old at this point and I had been photographing her since I met her at 2 months old. So far the pictures had mostly been to share with family with a few odd ones here and there that piqued my interest. But by that spring, with my brand new Hasselblad I began to find my pictures. Sitting on the floor playing and hanging out with Stella, a familiar and fun activity, I began photographing her and the space of our hanging out.
I think the first series of images that came out of this are a combination of just being present in the moment and of engaging with a sense of space/place of childhood. Sitting on the floor and playing, talking, and taking in the world in a very basic way was something I had been doing for years. Taking these pictures had the same feeling of grounding myself or finding a quiet empty space as the other pictures I had been making up to this point had, only now they included this other part of my life, the activity and time spent with kids.
As the project continued on, I was being “encouraged” to shoot in color. For me, color had always seemed like “too much information” and I hadn’t really found a working visual relationship to it yet. In black and white the world becomes shapes and tones to compose, something that made sense to my brain. Beginning to use color film, I found myself moving in closer and exaggerating the depth of focus (a result of extension tubes not so much the aperture). In this way I was able to make the world of color into abstract shapes and tones to compose. Being able to get in closer also allowed me to focus on the sense of tiny details that I experience when with very young kids – the ones who are crawling around noticing every dropped crumb on the floor and exploring things close up that are usually at our feet level. This is where the second series of images emerged:
And so now I am here, continuing to explore these spaces and experiences with the kids, making pictures, and attempting to articulate what it is I am doing. More thoughts next time….