I’ve started a new photo-project, tentatively called “Baby Shoes” from Ernest Hemmingway’s short story: “For sale, baby shoes, never worn”. When I first read that short story, I thought it was just about the saddest sentence someone could put to paper. I never expected to live it.
Life takes you in unexpected directions, but what I’ve gotten from this experience, from the e-mails, cards and talks, is that my experience is not at all unusual. In fact, it is a silently common, an experience many families have and never speak about, except when they hear about it happening to someone else.
“Baby Shoes” is my attempt to capture the emotions of my grief, which are alternately vicious and empty. For a while, I thought this would be a self-portrait project, but I found that the self was distracting, that what I wanted to get at was not portraits of me, or honest depictions of my face and body, but honest depictions of an emotional state. I want to tell you about a feeling in a photograph, to help you understand that feeling, or perhaps connect with it yourself.
Grief is hardly rare. It is universal. We have all experienced grief. Yet I find the depictions of grief in our culture to be far from my own understanding. My experience of grief is not ethereal, it is visceral. It is not the flowers that adorn the sympathy cards in the drug store, it is blood in the toilet and on the hospital floor. Grief can be a steadfast companion, an addiction, a pit, a friend, a killer, a ghost.
The photo above is the most mild from the sets I have taken so far. I chose it to display because, honestly, I am scared. I am concerned that the photos I’ve taken will worry you, that you will see them as exposing a wound to the air. I am worried that even though I am not in these photos, you will see far too much of me. I am worried that when you see them, you will think that I’m unwell.
The truth is that taking these photos, arranging them, working with models, structuring the image and following though, these activities help me to understand and process my own feelings. Far from being damaging, these photos give me control. But all you will see is the hurt, because I’ve cut it out, and put it in the world.
This might get tough, kittens, but before it does, I want you to know that everything I do here, everything I put out makes me feel that much better. The monsters aren’t inside me when I show them to you. I’m releasing them here, I’m setting them free.
Please, no condolences, they do not make me feel better. If you want to offer some thought, just tell me something nice that is happening in your life.