I began this blog with two posts about why I take pictures. I mentioned Beauty. I hinted at my Noble Purpose, sharing the hidden Beauty with others. The truth is perhaps less noble and more prosaic: I take pictures to stay alive.
My first experience of life was an experience of death. I am an identical twin and my twin sister, Diane, was born with a massive infection. We were also born three weeks prematurely. Diane died a week after we were born. I don't remember my family really ever discussing it. It was definitely something neither of my parents ever came to terms with but it impacted our entire family from that point on. I didn't realize that we lived with depression. We didn't talk about that, either. I knew my mother was unstable and dependent on prescriptions like Valium. I knew my dad didn't "do" emotional stuff and was gone a lot. But I just thought, somehow, this was normal and any problems lay with me, that I'd done something. That I didn't have a right to be alive. I adapted, finding ways to cope with the way life was for me, finding ways to make myself "OK" and "earn" my space. It was a rabbit hole and, ultimately, my coping mechanisms almost killed me. In the spring of 2016 I had a complete breakdown. I continue to struggle to "come back".
At some point after my two hospitalizations a friend came to visit. I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. While I was attempting to start a garden in my then-fiancé's back yard, mostly I just sat, too spent to care. But every now and then, something would catch my eye, almost against my will, and I'd take a picture of it, usually posting the pictures on my Facebook page. My friend loved my pictures and she made a powerful suggestion: I think you should just take a picture every day. Then, when you're despairing, you can look at those pictures and know that you were here, that you noticed something that no one else would have, and that you thought to share it with others. Maybe eventually you can make a little book but, for now, just take pictures.
When you're struggling with a chronic illness like depression people are fond of telling you to just take it a day at a time. It doesn't really work like that, not for me. For me, it's a battle of moments. It's one breath. And then the battle of the next. On and on. Never any "progress" and almost never any pleasure. Just constant warfare. Looked at from a broad perspective, this can be absolutely overwhelming, particularly when you experience the inevitable setbacks that happen in a recovery process. As cliché as it sounds, finding a way to stay in the moment, to engage with what is happening right now, is crucial if you're going to stay alive, much less recover. Taking pictures is my way of doing that. Again and again I find myself struck by something and reach for my camera to capture it.
Photography gives me a medium through which I can work to change the structure of my life. It gives me a hand hold, a place to balance, it creates a bubble of space within the dense dark that seems to be my life. The bubbles are places where time and space seem to operate differently. This is important. It's actually really profound. It's also a struggle because, in many ways, it doesn't seem to really matter. What good are pretty pictures in the face of the challenges I'm dealing with? What's the practical value in the face of a world that is brutal and ugly and where everything seems to be reduced to its transactional value?
There's another cliché that tells us, "where there's life, there's hope". Hope is something I have an extremely uneasy relationship with. Hope feels like a "falshe freunde". There are large chunks of time when I'm just ready to chuck it in and quit. But then, dammit, I have to go out and do something like thaw the birdbath in the winter garden and I see things like what you see in these images. And I take pictures.
In the end, I think I will take a pass on judging hope. I will avoid clichés and just keep my camera handy and just see what happens.
© Karen Opp James. All rights reserved.