“There is only one true wealth in all the universe – living time.” – Frank Herbert
This season last year I witnessed and documented life entering and exiting this sweet world – a baby girl born, a woman departed – and the powerful human connections surrounding them both.
These experiences happened within two weeks of each other and their proximity gave me deep pause. Since then I’ve been holding these two heartbreakingly beautiful events close in my mind and in my heart, feeling the weight of them both, and mining for every ounce of love and wisdom they’ve each had to teach me.
My perspective on these events is of course simply my own, observing as a photographer at a distance yet with an open heart, and filtering everything that happened in front of me through everything that ever happened in my life previously. What I noticed is that true engagement reaps an intensity that at times is overwhelming to feel, and that staying engaged in the overwhelm, letting myself feel the immeasurable joy and sadness, allowing it to run its course through my body, revealed to me the profundity of ‘living time’.
As a photographer called to document what is most important to someone else, there is a constant process for me going on behind the lens. I am trying to balance capturing what is happening as I see it and how those involved might be experiencing it. What matters most to me is that the images are honest. The purpose is for those involved, that they might look at the photographs and feel what they felt, see what they saw. The only way I know how to come close to doing that is to stay engaged with my subjects and wildly open to them. Not just seeing but also feeling. In that energetic posture sharing in their experience becomes a fluid process and the truth of experience reveals itself in nuanced gestures and expressions.
Simply put, life is sacred. Though there is nothing simple about it. The moments of our lives between life and death are complicated. Love and connection are difficult at times, yet the capacity we hold for both makes the human experience profound. We grasp for this connection constantly as our unconscious is acutely aware of its sacred nature. When Genevieve was born and when Mary said goodbye, I watched this beautiful process unfold in front of me. Tears streaming silently down my face behind the camera as I released the shutter, Mary’s adult children, grandchildren and husband, looked into her eyes for one of the last times. Their hands and fingers reached out to find life with all their senses, to feel into the most raw sense of connection that can be had with the living – skin on skin contact. As Genevieve inhaled her first breath, her parents reached out to know her, to feel her skin on theirs, to touch her and know that she was real. These moments of literal connection make way for everything unspoken to flow between us as humans. Our emotional bodies imploring our physical bodies to make known what we feel.
In these gestures I find a confessional. Though motivated by love they arrive complex. No physical body makes connection of love without also having known grief. These experiences are of course not mutually exclusive and the presence of their duality authenticates life’s sacredness. Even Genevieve, in her perfect newness as she sought to make eye contact with her parents for the first time she did so having shed tears exiting the safest place she had known and having felt the tremors of her mother’s pain ushering her life into the present. Mary’s children collapsed in her arms, overwhelmed with sadness and grief, yet so often she smiled back into their faces knowing that this present moment of connection and the years of love shared between them was what made life meaningful. Sorrow is the bowl of joy and without them both we know not the value of the other.
These moments have lent me deep insight into what ‘living time as our one true wealth’ really means. These experiences have motivated nearly every photo I’ve taken this year, inspired by fractions of time during of our firsts and lasts that revealed to me everything else in between matters most. Not what we own, not we look like, not what we want others to think of our lives, but that we loved and how. Maybe that sounds cliché. Maybe you already know this in your mind. But for me, to feel it, to carry the weight of such profundity, and allow it to inform how I live, how and why I photograph…that is presence.
May you find presence everyday and allow it to overwhelm you, so that in the intensity of connection you might hold sacred your one and only precious life.
Dearest Power Family and Court Family, thank you for allowing me to be there with you. To witness you. To feel with you. To drop into sacredness through your love. I am changed.
(Yes, permission to post publicly the photos below was sought and granted.)