The summer of 2018 was a time of great change for me. Cal was leaving for college, and in so many ways I felt like I was waking up from the deep sleep of intense motherhood. My sense of the world around me was shifting, as was my place in it. Books took on a greater depth of meaning. Song lyrics held layers of ideas. Solitude filled with thought and contemplation. Time spent with friends and family formed new threads of connection and kinship. It was as if I began to learn myself anew.
Around the same time, I was asked to join a group of women involved in a monthly portrait project called The Story of Me Project.. Each month, several talented photographers gather images of themselves along with words that resonate for them and share them on Instagram and on the group’s website. It seemed like the perfect time to embark on such a reflective experience. I was reflecting a lot anyway, right?
My initial thoughts surrounding this project were very Virginia Woolf-like in nature. To explore self-portraits not through my person, but through the things that populate my day-to-day life. Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife this fork…
I did not think I wanted the camera turned toward me.
By about the third month of my project, however, that began to change. As I explored more and more the idea of self, I became more and more willing to actually view myself. And then viewing myself made me more willing to explore methods of capturing myself on film. Ultimately then I became more willing to step from behind my camera, or at least stand both behind and in front of it, and share these images.
I’ve talked in other posts here about how there’s great strength in a willingness to admit your vulnerability, and nowhere is that more true than when you are making and then sharing a self portrait.
I’m not the greatest at long-term projects, but this one has captivated me. There’s a constant creative hum, just beneath the surface, that continually asks, what next? Some months, emotions feel too raw, too near the surface to even show your face to the world.
And in other months, I seek the clearest reflection possible, even when it comes at the hand of another photographer.
As the year moved on, I sought out more intricate images. More complex ways to tell stories. Because of the old film camera I use, I can’t capture my images with a timer or a remote, and I’ll admit, I love the inherent challenge that those constraints give me. I’m learning what makes a good reflected image and when a window reflection, no matter how tempting, just won’t work.
Sometimes a shadow or a reflection catches my eye, and I know that I’ve got to shoot that month’s image. And other times my images are more planned, the result of something I’ve seen or a quote I’ve read.
Each month brings new challenges, ones I’m embracing in ways I never expected. Honestly, sharing my face in so many ways is a challenge I never expected to embrace! What I have loved about this project is how open it keeps me. I feel connected to music, literature and my camera, not to mention myself, in ways I never have before.
And so here I am, at the end of one year and the start of another. Cal’s departure for college began my year of “yes,” and and pulling that thread on the idea of self portraiture was part of saying yes. Yes to new things, yes to new challenges. Yes to myself. I don’t know what’s in store for my next year of self portraits, but I’m interested to see how they evolve and I evolve. Ready to keep saying yes.