Melissa // Tonight's River Story

Someday I might have some words. But for now, I am just letting tonight's magic simmer on my still-wet skin. And maybe the words will never come. Maybe the images will tell us all we need to know about soul sisters and baby deer and teeny tiny frogs. Mothers and daughters and mothers and sons and what it feels like when a promise is unconditional. Layers of love, lifetimes deep, spelled out in freckle constellations.

I love you, Mel. And I'm forever grateful for our friendship.

C + A // A River Story

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Before each River Story, and every second throughout, I am asking the you from 20 years ago, and the you 20 years from now, "What do you need in this moment, to have captured?" 

Last night as we made our way down the path thick with summer, all I could hear Carolyn respond was, "I am completely content." For her and her little girl, this session was about documenting one thing: a Mother's heart, fulfilled. 

 

Teacher

Time passes so differently now. After years of quiet contemplation, day in and day out, I am now in the company of middle and high schoolers, a frenetic hive, a tornado. If tornados could also be beautiful. 

The first week of teaching was tough. Mostly because my Lily and I were meant to be stitched together, and the fraying seams took some getting used to. All summer, while we muddied our bare feet in the woods and made friendship bracelets beside the campfire, there was no sign of anxiety in her eyes. But now I see it returning, with the hustle and bustle of a life packed full, and I wish there was a way to live in two worlds at once. And at the same time, I know she is stronger than her fears. 

People are asking why I am teaching, and the truth is, because it is all I have ever wanted to do.

I've come to realize, in so many ways, that while I walk in this lifetime, my heart beats in another. Last week we were playing a board game, Clue, that we got at a garage sale. It was the original 1942 version, flimsy and smelling like dust, and at the very end of the instruction sheet it said, "If you have any questions about this game, please send a stamp with your letter and we will gladly reply." I traced those words with my fingertip and felt a familiarity unrivaled. Can you imagine living in a time where you asked a question by mailing a letter, and waited for an employee of the game company to handwrite you back? I can and I do and I long for that same feeling when it comes to my photography. I was not born equipped with the tools to handle the vulture-nature of social media. People say it shouldn't bother me that my work is so vastly copied, but that would mean not being myself and I've worked far too hard to ever hide again.

I don't know how to be on instagram. I feel like a penguin who has been placed on a tropical island.

Inspiration is not the credit-less recreation of an image. It is painful to see the poems I've written in the language of my most authentic truth, scribbled carelessly for the sake of a complete stranger's ego. 

It's not that I feel threatened by the recreations. What bothers me is that there is a sea of hungry humans, waiting with mouths open for their next bait, who have forgotten the magic of introspective inquisition, who truly do not care about artistic integrity, who have forgotten what it means to be brave. 

I am not your bait farmer. I am an artist. And being eaten alive, and then regurgitated, is not something I know how to handle. Or want to know how to handle. 

I don't want to know how to follow an image with a paragraph of random hashtags. I don't want to know how to search for likes. I don't want to know how to win in a video game world that seems to be fueled by dreams of perfection. I have nothing against anyone who loves it. I truly just can't force myself to feel home in that world. I've tried. I need a counterweight to it all. 

And so I teach photography. Full time, now.  I wake up each morning and I put on my shoes and I take my lunch and I drive to my little treehouse classroom that smells like darkroom chemicals and curiosity. I water the plants on the windowsill and I straighten the books on the bookshelf and write the day's lessons on the board. I add a few drops of peppermint oil to the diffuser, prop the door open with a basket of afghans brought from home, and wait for the students to fill the space with their brilliant and beautiful selves. When I was very small I had a bouncy ball and I'd lock myself in my Grandmother's bathroom and throw it as hard as I could against the wall of her shower. It would fly all over the place, shooting from wall to floor to sink to ceiling to floor to wall, and I'd laugh at the chaos of it all. When the students enter the room it feels this very same way; their energy cutting the monotony of things with the brightest flashes of color.

This transition was so needed for my soul, even though it is also clumsy and tear-filled. I am teaching humans who are eager, SO eager, to share their own truths with the world, and my goodness I cannot tell you just how good that feels. When I go to work each day, my success is not measured by anything other than seeing them chase the light with their lenses. Is there anything better? 

I used to wonder if playing along was an essential part of being an artist. I'd worry that if I let go of the rope, even just a little bit, I'd spin out of the gravitational pull that kept everything in orbit. But now I see that I will always be a photographer. I will always hold River Stories (always and always) and workshops and write my memoirs in low key tones of black and grey and white.  

And while I have no idea how to be a modern person, I know how to be myself. In a few days I will be 37 and I can say with certainty that I now know how to listen to the frequencies that matter most. To me. And for now, that is enough.