Over the last several months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the fact that my photography journey really took off just as our lives took a really chaotic turn. The last six years are a bit of a blur and it’s hard to recall when and where certain things took place because we’ve moved every single year in that time. At the same time, it’s easier to recall when and where because we moved around so much. Knowing which state, which country, which house, a photo was taken helps me remember. The photos help me remember.
Through all of this moving and uncertainty, my camera was in my hand. I was shooting away even when things were stressful and tough. Looking through our photos, one might come to the conclusion that we have had nothing but good times, traveling the world. We have had some good times, there’s no denying that, but that’s only part of the story. I reached out visually for the good during this time. I used the eye in my brain, the one that sees the world the way only I can, to find the good. I used my camera to capture what I saw. It made everything feel better. The process of seeing, finding, photographing, and editing gave me something to really look forward to. It was my constant, my happy place. A place where I had control and where I went when I felt I was losing control everywhere else in my life.
I have the ability to take whatever is in front of me and “find the light”, literally and figuratively, and for that I am so grateful. Grateful to have it, and grateful this photographic journey took off when it did. It may seem like I’m bragging a bit here, but stay with me.
I came across a photograph as I was catching up on editing from two and half years ago and it really made me think. We lived in a villa (using this word makes it sound so fancy, but trust me, it was not) in Abu Dhabi in 2013 and 2014. The walls were yellow, with pink and purple “swooshes” on two walls in the living room. It was… quite a sight. To keep cool in this hot and humid climate, there were swamp coolers in every room of the house – two in the living room and master bedroom. They kept things cool, but they were, to put it simply, a huge pain in the ass. The installation of these swamp coolers left cracks between the unit and the wall. The units themselves blew in chunks of dirt (I had to wipe this up every single day) and occasional bird feathers, as birds perched and nested upon them on the outside. Would have been inside too if they could have found a way in, which they tried to do I’m sure. I remember one afternoon, I had the chance to take a nap on my bed upstairs. It was shortly after we’d arrived back in Abu Dhabi and jet lag got the best of me. I dreamt that a bird had flown into the room and landed on the bed. I remember hearing lots of loud chirping in that dream. When I woke up, there were several fairly large feathers on my bed. I’m sure the sounds of the birds out on the unit made me dream what I did. This little side story really doesn’t matter here, but I still think about it often and it’s so strange to me that it happened. It’s something I tell people when talking about those swamp coolers and how everything got in through them. My point here is, this living situation was less than ideal. I could go on and on about all the things that were wrong with the place. I won’t, though, because that’s too much negativity. As bad as it was, it had the best light, and I found it. Oh, did I find it… I found it all year long as it shifted and changed.
This photo shows just a small piece of what we actually saw every single day while living here. I took down the hideous curtains as soon as we arrived. I let that light in and I made the best of where we lived. I took pictures and edited pictures in a way that showed how beautiful this place could be, in the right light. I shared the beauty that most would not have found.
Some of the ugliest places have the most potential for great photographs. This, I have found to be true, over and over again. I think it’s partly because these are places most people won’t take a second look at. One glance, and they are turned off. They turn their head and walk away. Not me, though. I stay. Partly because I’ve not had a choice, so might as well make the most of it. Also because I find the “ugly” intriguing. It grabs my attention, probably more so than obvious beauty. I haven’t had any say in where we’ve lived in the last 13+ years, but what I do have a say in, is how I choose to see where I live. Does this mean I was always happy and chipper about this place we called home? No way. It drove me mad at times. I’d be lying if I said any different. Seeing it differently through my camera made it better without a doubt.
While looking through pictures from this time, I started to wonder: Was I really capturing our truth if I was hiding what this place really looked like? Some would say I wasn’t. I’ve decided it doesn’t matter, though, because it was my truth at the time. It was the way I chose to see this place despite all of its faults and ugliness and inconveniences. I chose to see beauty. I chose to share that beauty with the world and that, in my book, is never a bad thing.
This is a photo that represents one that I would have kept and shared. It also wound up being an all-time favorite of mine. Right there in that same spot. Most of the photos I took in this living room were converted to black + white. It helped me simplify this space that had so much wrong with it. In this particular photo, freelensing and darker exposure helped me darken the areas where you would normally see the swamp coolers, which were something I absolutely hated to have showing in my photographs.