The past few weeks have been, for me, some of the most pivotal in the series. Some very drastic changes have occurred. It runs incredibly deep because I don’t plan any of this out… they are merely visual representations of what is happening and where I’m at.
The most crucial event has been losing the dress that I planned to use in the entire series. It has forced me out of a comfort zone I had landed in. And with the loss triggering the feelings of losing him so suddenly – it shook me awake in a way I needed. I was becoming complacent, going for the safe shots, even ignoring some of the best shots because of the time and effort they would require. It was the kick in the gut I needed… the moment that would ask of me, “And now, what are you going to do? Give up? Or push harder, and dream bigger, and find a new way?” It is precisely the question I felt asked of me when he died.
I decided to find a new way.
With the exception of my trip to Hawaii, the entire series has been photographed on the ranch my fiancé’s parents own… the place he grew up. Where my feet have walked, also have his over many years before me. There are often moments when I’ve hiked about just wondering if his feet ever stood in the exact place mine were in at that moment. Other moments still where my feet stand where we both once stood. There has always been something deeply spiritual about it – something that connected me to him in a very real way.
But, as with all journeys, there comes change. There comes a time to move forward. A time not to forget – but to remember from a different vantage point… one in which you can begin to know the new unknowns as you continue to explore the old ones. And I can say with whole-heartedness that – after 7 long months of recording (and living through) some of the most painful parts of the journey of loss – I am ready for a new landscape… for the series, and for my soul.
I am ready for the unknown in a way I haven’t been before. It feels strange to say this when I have no clue how I got here. There will still be healing to be done. My grief will go with me. But it is time to explore someplace new now, too. I feel it in my bones. The beach has proved to be just that. The beach where I grew up, to be exact. We built many beautiful memories in both of these locations – his childhood landscape and mine. It feels like reconnecting to that other half of the world we shared to be shooting at the beach now. It also feels like reconnecting with my own past which came well before him. Both of my parents are buried here in my hometown. And many of my memories. And I wonder how on earth it has taken me so long.
As a result of moving into a new landscape, I am finding myself rejuvenated with creative energy too. New creative challenges… like the expansive white skies – which required me to change from wearing white to black (initially a technical decision, which has yet again become symbolic). And I’m feeling very strongly drawn to more silhouetted versions of my figure – dark against the light, instead of lightness amidst the dark. It displays a shift from innocence, to strength – which is precisely the experience beginning to move through me internally.
I want to close this post with a memory. Five years ago, on the very beach where this week’s photo was taken… a pair of feet stood next to mine. It was a hot, humid summer night in May. He and I were best friends then – just on the edge of a friendship becoming more. We went out to the beach that night to star gaze, and as we walked the beach, we looked out into the blackness of the ocean. It was so ominous… a deep, inky black. We imagined and laughed how there could have literally been a giant squid or a sea monster ten feet in front of us – that water was so black in the night that you’d have never seen the beast.
And then we just stood there for a long time, our feet planted firmly – facing right out into this ominous unknown landscape. Quietly strong together.
In that moment, I remembered thinking that this was the sort of partnership I wanted to have. Someone who would stand beside me, feet planted, ready to take on whatever was out there in the unknowns of the future. I remember knowing in my bones for the first time what a true partner was, and that I had found him.
I always wished back then that I knew as much about photography as I do now. That I could go back to the ghosts of us both on that beach and photograph that moment in time. But it is there in my heart, and always will be. And it has led me to this week’s image… which is part of that story. Another version of it. Not realizing until after I shot this – It feels as if the reflection of my own feet planted in the sand are meant to be him reflecting back at me. And that really, he is never very far away. It is my faith in this and in myself which roots me most strongly for the unknown ahead. No one we love who dies is ever far away I believe…. They are right beneath us and within us, helping to anchor us and guide each step forward we take.
About the Series: Through 40 weekly photos and accompanying essays, 'Still, Life' captures a deeply emotional and psychological journey of what it means to grieve, to heal, and to live on.