Visiting the place where your entire childhood was formed, if that childhood was a good one, full of more happy memories than hard ones, which mine was, you tend to feel emotions choke up from your heart into your throat. Then those emotions fill your head and memories run together like a movie reel and then it all spills out down your face and you whimper into the phone at your mom: “Those were some of the best and happiest years of my life.”
Those were the years of innocence, before the hot pain of heartache, before the world’s bony fingers dug their way through the nourishing cocoon walls of idealism your parents wrapped you in and could protect you with.
I opened the door to the van and set my daughter’s feet in the grass that my own feet had been barefoot in 30 years before. My son ran toward the trees my hands had helped me climb with my friend Julia. Thinking back now, I realized we may have all been touching the same dirt my great grandfather turned to plant a garden.
Maybe the same trees my great aunt climbed or my great grandfather’s sister leaned against to steady her arm to click the shutter of the camera she used to capture my family’s real moments.
Those real moments are what had lit the spark inside of me to document life around me through writing and with a camera
. It was my grandmother’s laughter I’d captured with my camera one day when she was 88 that made me realize how much I love photographs that reveal the true personality of a person. I loved capturing her off guard that day and in mid-laughter, sitting next to the ditch in her backyard, cleaning out weeds. I wanted to do it again and again and through those images be able to remember a moment or a person long after they were gone.
Somewhere along the line I lost my vision of photography as a way to document. I worked at small town newspapers for 13 years and they didn’t want photographs that told a story, they wanted something to “fill the page” and “be on deadline” and have as many faces of people as possible so they could sell the paper.
I’m often reminded of how important it is to document life with our family, not only photograph them playing the role of a person smiling at a camera.
I want my children to be able to touch their childhood one day. I want my son and my daughter to touch a photograph, close their eyes, and smell a memory like my husband can smell his grandfather’s pipe and I can smell the sun on the grass behind my grandmother’s house.
One thing the dark moments of the last three years have taught me is that is that I don’t want to take a picture anymore. I want to document life.