I was asked this month to be a part of a group show at the Leica Gallery in Bellevue on the topic of the female perspective in photography. I am not only honored to be a part of the show, alongside so many talented photographers, but I put aside my fear of public speaking to say a few things about my photography within this context. It happens to be International Women's Day and it feels appropriate to share my thoughts on such a broad subject, fully understanding that my experience is limited not only by my privilege but also by being one person. We may have multitudes inside of us but we only have one body, for better or for worse. This is by no means a verbatim version of my speech. It's close but in my nervousness, I forgot a few salient points. Such is the nature of speaking (and why I much prefer writing). Without further ado...
Talking about the female perspective through photography is exciting to me right now because I’ve always had a hard time with my own definitions of femininity and where I fit into what we’re now realizing is a broader, more forgiving spectrum than it once was. Until I turned 35 last year, I had yet to find a place on that spectrum that felt comfortable in any way. My relationship to my body was that of a friendly neighbor. An acknowledgment and a wave and then I'd get on with my day.
I spent the better part of the last 10 years as a professional tour manager and I brought my camera along for all of it, creating the bulk of the photographic work I’m known for - live music and daily documentation of the touring lifestyle. I won’t say the music industry is categorically male-dominated, because I had the privilege of working with so many amazing women on and off stage, and I’m not interested in perpetuating tired gender tropes. But that job didn’t leave a lot of room for receptivity, reflection, creativity or emotionality. There were many parts of myself I had to shut down in order to do that job. There was a complete and total disconnect between my head and my body while I was out there. I used to joke that I looked like a Ken doll from the waist down… High on the utter cacophony of yang inherent in the spectacle of touring, I became yin-deficient.
In 2015, I got diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome after I had decided to take a break from touring to get my head straight. For those who don’t know what chronic fatigue is or looks like, it is, in a word, burnout. What it looked like for me was gaining about 25 lbs inexplicably; sleeping 12 hours a night and still requiring naps; and my hair started breaking off and falling out. All of the systems I had mentally and emotionally shutdown over the years were suddenly physically shutting down. I became a walking example of the power of mind over body and not in a good way. Needless to say, I could no longer do the job I loved. Walking away from touring in that capacity also meant leaving behind really exciting (to me) photographic material. But if not for this diagnosis, I might never have slowed down to really examine the broken relationship with my body and identity. I certainly would not have been able to reflect on the role of photography in my life, on what I now see as a medium for my creative drive, not just a hobby. Everything I had shot up until that point felt circumstantial. Intentionality went only as far at what hoved into my field of vision.
This piece is from a larger body of personal work I’ve been creating over the last 3 years. This personal work consists of character studies of female interiority, though I didn’t really know that was what I was doing at the time. I’ve spent my time quietly documenting the women in my life, as both a student and partner in their depression, joy, pregnancies, aging, and discomfort (physical or otherwise). I got to bear witness to their vulnerabilities and see the many manifestations of unapologetic strength therein. Growing up with “strong” feminine role models meant that I had access to a very limited definition of what strength was. I’m a very visual learner so having women show me a broader scope of feminine strength was imperative to my own evolution and healing, as I struggled with a new body and identity that I wasn’t ready to accept as mine.
These women have also taught me that vulnerability is not and should not be relegated to one gender. It is not just a female trait. It’s a powerful human trait I seek in my male subjects, too. It’s the key ingredient that drives me to pick up my camera and keep going, despite the nihilism that can accompany being a photographer in 2018. So the female perspective for me is really not about gender. It’s about acceptance and reintegration of ALL parts of myself. It’s about being a good steward to this physical vehicle that houses my consciousness, my spirit, my creativity - whatever you want to call it. If there are parts of myself I’m shutting down because I don’t like them or I don’t find them useful, then I am by definition not a whole person. If I’m not a whole person, I cannot fully give myself to my photography, live fully, or be fully present for the people in my life. And if I’m not present for the people in my life, then I’m having a hell of time understanding why I am even here.