There is a subtle humor and whimsy that lives within our peccadilloes, something that I feel can only be illuminated by embodying the three most important core traits of a storyteller: simplicity, patience, and compassion. We are our most beautiful when we are most ourselves and authentically engaged in moment to moment experiences. You will never hear me say ‘I want this,’ or ‘Give me that because I’m going for this…’ The images we make together are not about me or what I want, they are about you. They are about who you are, not what you are and when your grandchildren pull your book off the shelf, blow the dust off the cover, and dive into your story, they will be given a crystal clear window into their past and have so much more to say than ‘Didn’t they look pretty?’ The more stories that are told, the richer and more textured our world becomes. Simple as that.
After my first semester at grad school, I flew home to my parent’s house in suburban Massachusetts to catch my breath during the all too short winter recess. Earlier that semester my interest in photography was ignited when one of my classmates saw me walking down the hallway with a camera in my hand – note to dorks, it was a Canon 10D, my first digital – and, assuming I was a photographer because I had a sort of fancy looking camera, asked me if I would shoot her headshots for an upcoming audition. Before I could ask her what, exactly, a headshot was I heard myself utter “Yeah, of course. That would be awesome.” So that’s where that started. October 2004.
Thinking back to that winter break the strongest visual memory I have from the week was that there was no snow. Winter is my absolute favorite season in New England but a winter without snow is Butch Cassidy without Sundance and the rather pallid demeanor of the backyard and the pseudo-frozen pond left my desire for outdoor adventuring about as strong as my desire to go see a Hugh Grant movie. This was the house I grew up in. I painted both the inside and the outside, I built my dad a golf course in the back yard for father’s day one year, I replanted my mother’s and next door neighbor’s garden after building my father a golf course for father’s day one year, I watched my brother play Civil War in the yard and neighboring woods [by himself – he played both sides and carried around a bottle of baby powder so he could make gun smoke… he’s an NP now], I ran through the sprinkler, ate raw rhubarb, and built the mightiest forts you’ve ever seen. Though for some reason, on this day, my curiosity seemed to lie within the fading green walls.
We call it the computer room, but it’s more like a hallway, really – a dead end hallway that was scorching hot in the summer and if you wanted to be in there in the winter, you needed to wear your down jacket, hat, and fingerless gloves so you could still type. There’s a long shelf that at one point must have been made of wood but now was more superglue, duct tape, and patchwork built into the wall upon which rests our computer – what we have affectionally dubbed the “disaster machine.” It’s partially engulfed by a mess of electronic seaweed coming out of the back side and next to it sits an old Singer sewing machine that my mother got as a wedding gift. You’d half expect it to have one of those black pedals that you have to work with your feet… but no, it plugs in. Opposite the ‘desk’ there are two white benches also built into the wall and above them the book shelves. Throughout their day, these shelves have been a rotating collection of current reads and past history. They have held on a pedestal everything from my father’s yearbooks, to Gross Anatomy, to the Redwall Series, to political biographies, to my Semiotic Pattern Completion and Popular Music Theory books from undergrad. Books have come in and left, been loaned to friends never to return, and made the long proud walk to the Salvation Army donation bin. There is one section of these book shelves, however, that has remained constant. That would be the section with the collections of family photos. It was at this at this corner of the shelf that my meandering eyes paused for a second. Not really having much on my agenda for the day I sat myself down on the surprisingly uncomfortable wooden bench and started pulling out albums.
Looking back at the experience now, I realize it must have been some mysterious force of fate or coincidence or divine intervention or whatever you want to believe that caused me to reach for what I was soon to realize what was my parents wedding album. Brown. Cheap gold metal binding. Gold lined oval mattes. What’s up, 1978? As I was leafing through it, I marveled at the resemblance of my dad at that age and my brother now. I marveled at how much my mom looked like her siblings. That, however, is pretty much where it stopped. That is when I felt my heart start to crumble.
I know how my parents are now. I know how they look at each other, I know how they touch, I know how they get so ridiculously excited when a new bird comes to one of their feeders. I know how my mom rolls her eyes when my dad tells us all for the 80th time that he had the Baldwins’ father for social studies in high school [I still haven’t figured out why he thinks that is so great…] I know how my dad will always say yes whenever my mom asks him to do anything – be it running to the plant store to pick up something for her garden or making sure to record that night’s episode of Downton Abby so they can watch it together [though, inevitably, she will be asleep within the first three minutes.] I know what their love is like now. It is honest and pure and seasoned and goes so much deeper than anything I can ever dream of having for myself. It is beautiful. As I looked through their wedding photos my eyes began to water and some mix of longing and disappointment… what I wouldn’t give for just one glimpse into their life back then. A single frame of how my mom looked at my dad at that time in their lives, or how he held her, or the way she laughed for only him. Their love has grown and remained current through all these years – the most remarkable feat of all… they are in love with the person that sleeps beside them, not the person that they met all those years ago. They are not in love with the idea of who each other is but who each other actually is. The problem, though, is that I missed who they were. I wasn’t around. The only thing that I can look back at is a picture of what they looked like. I want to know who they were now that I know what they have become and I cannot. That breaks my heart.
Fast forward a few years and I have finished grad school decided not to do what I went to grad school for [well not directly, anyway] and am trying to figure out what to do with my life when my brother’s roommate from college, Chris, asks me if I could shoot his wedding. He can’t afford a “real” photographer and knows that I have a camera that looks kind of fancy. So I said that I would be honored and as I was preparing for the day I thought back to my parents, and vowed to never let what happen to me and my brother and sister happen to Chris and Shannon’s children. So I shot it. I was hooked. I have since become obsessed with the preservation of family history and documenting the birth of a family and the nature of love and the way it manifests itself on, around, and about different people. I often find myself standing in the middle of busy sidewalks wearing a HUGE grin amazed at all the love that surrounds me. This world is a pretty beautiful place when you take the time to really live.
I am a storyteller who trained as a musician, actor, and healer. Undergrad was all about telling a musical narrative and healing through sound. Grad school was all about theatre and film and healing through performance. I worked for a year and a half as an EMT. I spent a year working and training with a Shaman and a Cherokee medicine man. I served in the AmeriCorps for a year working with the disadvantaged youth of Maine. Now I am given the utmost in responsibility… to tell the story of family legacy and of love. There are photojournalists who have chosen to highlight the injustices in our world so that it might spur others into action. I have chosen to highlight what is good in our world so that it might be an example for others to follow. The best part of what I do is that I work in non-fiction. When you think about it, storytelling is really one of the major components in the preservation of culture whether it be through performance, or music, or stories around a campfire, or legends in the tall grass, or family history lessons from your mother while working in the rice fields… it is the fundamental part of who we are and how we identify ourselves – through our stories. We are those that have come before and explored to the ends of the world. We are those that have been enslaved and against all odds have endured. We are those who have stood up alone for what they truly believed to be right and have been chastised for it. We are our past and our ancestors. We are the riches we gain from living and loving in the moment and knowing that it is beautiful.
I approach my work and live my life guided by two basic principles that I believe to be inherent truths about humanity.
The first :: everyone is beautiful. This is a fact, not an opinion. Beauty is found where you seek it. Yes, you are beautiful. I will show you now and hopefully a million times before we part ways.
The second :: we all benefit from the stories of others, because we are truly all connected. Think about how much we learn and grow from paying attention to what is all around us. The answer to every question we could ever have is already out there. All we have to do is seek it.
Be Joyful. Seek the joy of being alive.