There is a lot going on in my life right now, just as I have no doubt there is a lot going on in yours. In less than a month we have a new issue of “The Long Way Home”. In less than a month I stand in front of Chinese Examiners for an hour and a half, with the hopes of impressing them with the countless hours I have spent learning their language (I’m guessing it will go so-so). In exactly a month I turn 31. In a month and a half my daughter turns 6 and on the same day says goodbye to her school and all her friends she’s made this year. In a month and a half we fly across the country to spend precious time with family. And then comes the big one. Right after Christmas, in just under 2 months, we hop on a plane and 14 hours later land in our new home of Shanghai. There’s a lot in these next couple months, but I can’t quite stop thinking about that last bit. Not so much the fact that we’ll be living in China, a place we’ve never set foot in, but the craziness of the abrupt change. One day you are living in the United States and then later that same day you are living on a different continent. A shift so huge seems like it needs to be accompanied with fireworks or at least some outward sign that so much is changing, all at once. How does that even work? How is it even possible? To just have your life in one place and then almost instantaneously have it be somewhere else? I think about this every time we moving, always believing in some way it will just not be possible… but it is possible. Sometimes our lives just change dramatically and we find ourselves in new territory, praying that we can figure it out and find our way. Wondering how the hell we got here, what we’re supposed to do and where we’re supposed to go from here.
It’s in these moments of musings on what seems impossible, in these times of transition and in these periods of unrest that I search for what is real. I look past all the obvious huge things like new house, new grocery store, new friends, and look for what in my life is constant, clinging to that feeling of home…even if we’re on an airplane over the Pacific. Sometimes home is a person, sometimes it is a feeling and after a while, it becomes a place, but no matter where I am, if I look, I can always be at home in my life. I can always find my way to that core of comfort, peace, love and self. If I look, I see that it doesn’t matter where I am or how quickly things are shifting around me. There is so much in my life that is constant, real and important.
In this past year of seeming constant transition, I have struggled to find joy in my work and satisfaction in the products. I have felt pressure to create beautiful things so I’ve ventured off with a dressed up child, looking for the perfect mix of nature, color, authenticity and beauty. I have created some lovely photos this way, but I quickly lose focus during editing, feeling bored and disconnected from the product. In Washington state I was always photographing outdoors in our indescribably beautiful neighborhood, so why not here? It took me a long time, but I finally realized I was looking to those big, loud, outward situations. My work was good because I could photograph my kids in water, right? Or because they could be sweatered up feeding chickens? That’s where the truth lay, right? Not right. Of course those added to the photos, but the most piercing truth was the authenticity. Those were our real life moments, our days, or loves our “what was reals”. Here it is different. Of course we can find lovely spots, but it’s finding a patch of green to take a photo, not honestly exploring our surroundings. There has been an element of fake in my photos. Going out with the intent to “make something beautiful” and relying so heavily on the surroundings was suffocating my creativity and more importantly, my connection to my life and what I deemed to be important.
After trial, struggle and lots of ping ponging between total frustration and apathy, I was struck so totally with the truth that I was missing out on real connection and on my actual life. With my work being one of my most meaningful ways in which I process my life being turned over to things that don’t matter, I was not only losing connection with my art, but also myself. When I finally remembered that feeling of home and realized it was completely absent. I wanted it back. So so badly, I wanted it back.
I stopped, I breathed and I looked around. I took time to calibrate my inner lens, to find what was real in my life, what was important. To look, without my camera, for those moments that truly made my soul sing. I started coming back. I could feel myself connecting more with my family, with my home. I could see those moments more and more frequently and I could feel them deep within my whole being. It was with this return, that I then picked up my camera. I felt, I grabbed and I photographed. I focused only on those moments that were real and that made me feel home. Some of those are in our house, some are outdoors, but with a renewed feeling of home in my work, I once again have home in my life. I know our life is about to change dramatically. One day we’ll move across the world to a land of way more people and a way harder language. There will be changes galore, some good, some difficult, but if I can remember and just look, I know I will see that so many things are still exactly the same. My home will still be right with me.
Amanda Voelker is a fine art and lifestyle photographer. With her children and light as her inspiration, Amanda finds beauty in the everyday. She strives to capture the subtleties of human emotion and connection in a beautiful way that showcases both the moment and a piece of her self. Amanda is also the Co Creator and Editor in Chief of “The Long Way Home” Magazine and instructor at "The Bloom Forum"