Photography is about telling stories and the pursuit of capturing life as authentically as possible. I think the hardest stories to tell are your own. It’s tough to turn the camera on your past and struggles but I felt it was time to tell my story of how photography helped me identify and work through depression. It is a difficult and sensitive subject to open up about but my hope is that it might provide a glimmer of light to someone else who might be going through the same journey.
I view the process of photographing as a dialog between me and the subjects but something didn’t feel right anymore. It was a growing numbness in my work; an apathy for the images I was creating that would not go away. There was something missing from the equation. Phone calls and emails where not returned and my drive to complete work slowed to a crawl. Through much debate, I had to come to the realization that I was and had been slowly suffering from depression. But I didn’t know where it was coming from.
With pain, our natural reaction is to search out the source and stop the bleeding. But depression is a strange beast to deal with. It’s orign might be buried deep beneath layers of time and emotion; waiting to be discovered. So, I started with the only record I kept, the images I took and dove in. Picasso once said, “the painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” Photography was my diary of sorts and was the first indicator that something was not right. I assume buried deep within my work was a bread crumb trail that would lead me to the answers.
With this backdrop, I set out and began to dig through the tens of thousands of images and negatives I had shot searching for something. I started flagging images that resonated with me and placed them aside. After a few evenings of searching through every image I had taken, I stepped back and reviewed the collection. To my surprise, a subtle pattern emerged. The images where full of longing, wonder, and all from the perspective of childhood. The subjects always seem to be in search of something lost or in awe of the unknown before them. There was some truth about these images that I gravitated towards. The question became why? Why was I repeating the same type of images over and over again subconsciously? What was I trying to tell myself?
August Sander famously said, “In photography there are no shadows that cannot be illuminated.” In the shadows of my work, beneath the structure was a story trying to be heard. Yearning for the light. Silently imprinting itself on what I searched for through the viewfinder of my camera. It was there the whole time, patiently waiting for the artist to recognize its hand and I finally knew what it was; the source of my depression and grief. An event early in my life trying to get out. Through this discover and some therapy, I was able to pinpoint the source.
When I was 9 years old, I was involved in a tragic firearms accident that resulted in my three year old neighbor being killed. I remember the day so vividly. It’s memory is like a raging bull that crashed through my quiet and innocent world. At that age, in order to deal with the horrific reality of what had transpired, my brain numbed itself and buried those emotions deep within. It was protecting itself and me. I was extremely lucky to have a family that showered me with love and support. I coped with my new reality through faith and art. Deep within me was this strong desire to create. Looking back on it, I think subconscious I was trying to use the hands that had caused so much pain for the purpose of bringing happiness and hope. So, I began to draw, paint, play music, and later in life photography.
Life went on. I grew up, got married to my highschool sweetheart and had two kids of my own. I hardly spoke of what had happened in my childhood to anyone. Becoming a father changed all that. But it wasn’t until I really got into photography that I noticed anything was wrong. I now see the pattern in my work as not only a dialog between myself and the subjects but also a dialog between myself and the young 9 year boy frozen in time within.
It all makes sense why I have a great passion in photographing families and children. I think it resonates with that part of me that was lost. There is a pattern in my work that I now know comes from something deeper. When we know ourselves better, we will produce more meaningful art. And to know yourself is to shine a light through all the shadows of your past. There is such healing in coming terms with what can not be changed. Photography for me is more than just taking pictures. It was and is, a way for me to converse with the beauty of this world and produce something that brought people joy.
I think to actively engage with your work and desires is one the most fruitful exercise to practice. We must be mindful of what draws our attention because they might be a greater story to be told. It is so easy to get caught up and distracted in such a moving world. But by looking to the past we can find inspiration for the future.