It Matters

I’m not going to tell the whole story here — these pages are not meant for this.

From the onset, I didn’t want to make this book about my divorce — no messy details I said. This is going to be about my life as it is becoming; not what it was and certainly not what someone else is trying to make it. I stand by that. Today though, I walk the edge.  I’ve awoken to more s**t — stuff from my ex that I thought was of the past. Legally, I’m trusting things will be OK but it’s been enough for me to question how I will accomplish all that I need to. It’s a stumbling block that’s all.

I’ve been writing today about the amazing photojournalists I interviewed over the last few weeks. Keeping focused on their words helps ground me but I still have more to meet; many more stories to pull together. I have three more years of alimony — three years to reverse the inertia that broiled around me on the path of marital destruction. Shall I use these years to set an example for my children; show them the real me or let fear, intimidation and perceived limitations keep me in the same place I was in my marriage? No brainer.

This post today is an affirmation that this book about women in the world as seen through the world’s top female photojournalists goes on. That even if there are more emails to my lawyer crafted with shaking hands, this, what I’ve started is far more important. The process of this book is very much about me remembering the best parts of me. I’m stepping out into the world again, beyond the pristine perfection of Switzerland where I lived during my marriage and the beauty of Banff where I now make my home. I’m reaching back to a profession I wore for a short time yet never completely stored away.

Roaming the townships of South Africa, bearing witness to the signing of the country’s new constitution, seeing eighty year-old women vote for the first time in their lives and even the execution of another human being — it mattered. What I saw, meant something and altered me forever. Yet, what I accomplished beyond the simple making of images and how it actually affected me to this day, remains ambiguous. I am driven to pursue these questions because for several years a quiet voice inside of me has relentlessly been reminding me of their importance.

Yes, I’m living vicariously through women who are now doing the profession I’m kinda regretting giving up. I may be trying to make up for all the assignments, countries and people that passed me by over the years. I do it because I’m on a journey to illustrate things of importance that these women have chosen to freeze in time — the quieter issues that don’t catch our attention with automatic weapons, war mongering videos, and hate. The ones that because they exist, intimacy in the world is not completely lost and we’re given the chance to know others through their goodness and strength; not define them by the circumstances around them. I now have six interviews with female photojournalists under my belt. The process has just begun — the momentum builds for this book, and I don’t intend to stop.

I’ve just returned to my home in Banff; given the chance now to absorb the last few weeks. After a nine hour flight home, I’ve had time to put things into perspective. I’ve written along the way but each day, each interview seems to have enforced a certain insight that tells me I need to be out in the world more, soaking it up, listening and sharing ideas in order to do justice to this book.

I met with the photojournalist Holly Pickett in New York as she decompressed after the Arab Spring. Still unable to fully articulate what it all meant, she sat down with me, lifted open her laptop and took me through a story of Iraqi refugees in Cairo trying to carry on with life post-war. A photo essay she has spent months on that was never published.

Nadia Todres, devoted to Haitian girls showed me images of them, bellies bulging with babies looking far too young to care for them let alone amidst the devastation of the 2010 earthquake.

Paula Allen who took the time to sit for a couple of hours with me with great care, questioning me about where I want to go with this book, what I want to accomplish. She assisted me in figuring out that I want to take this book beyond the simple concept of photojournalists and what it’s like to be out there witnessing the very worst and very best of humanity.

Be vulnerable, Paula’s words to me keep bobbing to the surface as I write.

Paula works with Eve Ensler in The Congo — the very worst place in the world to be a woman. Ensler built The City of Joy for Congolese women who are victims of rape, helping them to rehabilitate. Also, since 1989 she’s been photographing women in Chile. Women, who with shovels, have ventured into the desert for 17 years looking for the remains of love ones executed and buried by soldiers under the Pinochet regime. I have enormous respect for Paula’s commitment to her subject matter, it’s truthful, authentic and meaningful. If she chooses to be a part of this book, I hope it’s because she sees the same in my work. Her work her words, are at it’s heart and mine as I write.

Iranian photographer, Newsha Tavakolian and American Kate Brooks were both invited to the Middle East Now Film Festival in Florence, Italy. I took a train there from Switzerland to meet them. They are two conflict photographers at the top of their game yet conversations with them took us to artistic places, to talk of portraits of women who have been silenced. In Iran, women are not allowed to sing solo. Newsha chose to capture this silence in images — remarkably communicating this injustice with portraits of the singers. Kate too shared thoughts of producing portraits but somewhat more intimate than Newsha’s — those of close female friends who have endured trauma in their lives. A potent idea coming from someone who has been on the front-lines of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and a reminder for us to honour the battles  that those close to us may be fighting every day.

Last on this trip was German photographer, Andrea Diefenbach. We met in Frankfurt. Andrea stuck with a project on children in Maldova — at times not knowing if it was a story or not. Fathers and mothers are mostly absent in these parts, working in Italy while their children are left behind being raised primarily by grandparents. Parental love comes to them on a truck from Italy, in a box, as panettoni, apples from Italian fields and even a computer for the lucky ones. For awhile Andrea thought things were fine there, life appeared to be working out for them and perhaps it wasn’t a story after all. Until she spoke to them, started to ask about their feelings, unleashing tears of heartache and hardship.

Perhaps love is the process of my leading you gently back to yourself. 

Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

This book, as I write, is leading me back to myself. Each conversation with the photographers, a reminder of what matters. The photographs they take perform justice to those often ignored, silenced, and forgotten. I believe in the dignity that arises when we take the time; find the courage, to notice, to listen and remember. I also believe its our duty to do so. Should we fail, the world becomes about bravado, sucking it up, control and subjugation — fear.

I can’t reach my lawyer today — he’s in Switzerland and because of the time difference, no longer in the office. I think of so many days I’ve wasted like this, while someone holds my future (and my children’s) in the balance. Do I worry until I get through to my lawyer? Or, do I keep pulling the thread; focusing on this project thanking my ex-husband for the clarity of purpose his behaviour has brought me? Whatever it takes, I will get this done — see it through. It may take longer and I may have to chart a different course but life is messy — it just is. If we can adequately clean it up — I’m doubtful. I think the best we can do is arrange all the scattered pieces, all the while keeping an image in mind of a life that makes sense, even if it is for no one other than ourselves.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.