Strolling in the Light

Over the last few months I’ve been feeling photography grow ever more comfortable. When I posted earlier this year about taking photography back from childhood trauma, about making the hobby mine again, I had reached a point where it had switched from being a trigger to a pleasure. Lately something unexpected has happened – photography has become solace.

Since memories of childhood trauma came pouring forth the best part of a decade ago, I’ve often found myself wondering how to make sense of my life experiences. Though I have explored the disjoint, terrifying memories in the safe embrace of my journal and therapist’s office, I wrestle with how to translate these experiences onto the page. I yearn to tell my story, yet how to do so without scaring my readers or befuddling them with disconnected slivers of memory has long evaded me.

Since the summer, I’ve been mentally rummaging in the junk drawer of my mind, going back over experiences trying to find a common framework from which to make sense of things. Unexpectedly I discovered photography showing up all over life, not just in my trauma memories. From pictures of childhood events, to family voyages photographically assaying the American West, to images of my own independent travel and those of my son, photography is the river that has flowed through my experiences. The negatives and positives of my life are all connected by an unending spool of film.

As I worked through all of this in my journal, I actually could give attention to it for the first time. Instead of shying away because of being triggered, I was able to embrace the idea of using photography, both mine and my father’s, as a way to understand my own story.

Bolstered by this framework of how the pieces of my life might fit together into a cohesive whole, I let myself slip more into photography. I let it envelop me, become part of how I see the world again. I finally looked back over my catalog of pictures from the last 20 years and beyond. I started to write a mixed media essay with some of those photographs. I began to read about photography and cameras, which I had never been able to do before. In daily life occasional images would impress themselves on me. Bright pansies in a planter surrounded by the browning world of late fall caught my eye one day, a Christmas wreath around a streetlight another, and Thurman with a particularly vivid background on yet another. Interesting images were all around me, I simply started noticing.

I found myself wandering around the neighborhood, camera in hand allowing my eye to once again see things as the camera might. I’d found something I never thought I would experience again: the countenance between light and dark, the sharp joyful spark of color, the excitement of the unexpected caught still. Small, even inconsequential things became my subjects and created a smile as I found life in the ability to represent things as I saw them.

A crossroads in the sky.

I am no longer only tolerating capturing an image. I’m finding joy and life in creating with my camera. I’m using photography as a tool to help myself now. When I go numb, disconnect or get anxious because I am overwhelmed by memories, a walk with the camera grounds me to the earth. These walks connect me to things waiting to be seen, to life itself because in order to capture the world as I see it, attention must be given to the present instead of what is going on inside. I am forced out of the darkness of images trapped inside my mind to instead experience the light of the world around me.

In the land of the pansies, the purple queen reigns.

Somehow moving toward instead of away from memories of my father the photographer has allowed me to work on accepting the duality of my relationship with him. In turn I have felt a peace develop around cameras, photography and how they weave into the fabric of my life. Once again photos are an outlet for me to express myself as an artist, instead imprisoning me.

There is still darkness in photography for me, but as long as I walk in the light, darkness lives only in my past.

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