[PHOTO ABOVE: Contact sheet of photos taken by author at Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire, circa 1978]
The moment I printed my first photograph, I was hooked. It was the magic, the appearance of something from nothing that thrilled me. It didn’t matter that I was in a cramped, almost pitch black bathroom-converted-to-darkroom, with the smell of funky chemicals wafting up into my nose. There was a miracle unfolding on a blank sheet of paper, simply by swishing it around in a bath of special ingredients. Presto! Voila!
Little by little, small specks and lines appeared, filling in more and more with shapes and shadows, the contrast of light and dark, and finally an image that I had captured simply by carrying a little box around my neck, holding it up to my eye, focusing, clicking. More magic.
Ever since I can remember, I loved leafing through magazines with loads of photos. “National Geographic” at the dentist’s office (such exotic animals, people, places!), “LIFE” at the newsstands (telling the stories of famous, infamous and not-famous-at-all people), “Vogue” seated next to my mother, peering from the side (with the beautiful models and to-die-for outfits). Although I was an avid reader with a vivid imagination, I loved a story told with photographs. A photo made it real, brought it home, allowed me to be a part of the experience.
You have to bear in mind, this was in the late 1950s, early 60s. We weren’t as bombarded as we are today with image after image after image everywhere we turned. There was no 24/7 news coverage. There was no internet. There were no iPhones. There was my small world, and the enormous world beyond. Photos made me feel a part of, not apart from. Instead of separated and excluded, I was connected.
As a teenager I aspired to artistry. I danced, sang, and acted. But the visual artistry of painters and sculptors, whom I considered real “artists”, eluded me. I could not draw a human figure to save my life. However, I could photograph one. And as my sense of “art” expanded and my artist’s eye evolved, I began to see how photography was indeed an art form. I spent much of my 20s taking, developing and printing black and white photographs. Very few of those images are still in my possession. This was all before the digital age.
I took lots of pictures, during the intervening decades, but they were mostly candid shots at family celebrations and vacations. It was more about preserving memories than about creating anything artistically memorable.
It wasn’t until my 50s that I picked up the camera again. I experienced an enormous loss – the suicide of my son – and taking photographs became a way for me to open my eyes and heart, a way for me to return to life. It required paying attention, looking, noticing, seeing all the shapes, colors, patterns and activity of the world.
Photography does for me with images, what writing does for me with words: it allows me to express my self, and to be in dialogue with others about how I experience this life. It is still a means of connection. In my book (the so-called “Book of Celenia,” which is naturally chock full of photos and sits on your coffee table), connection is the whole point.