I’ve been sitting on this photograph for a couple of weeks. I keep waiting for the thoughts and feelings to come together in some sort of cohesive way, but my words are just as jumbled and tumbled as the day I created it.
We had a plan.
Arriving at my subject’s home, I unloaded all of my gear and tried to get my brain in ‘flow mode’. All too often, making a ‘plan’ creates this vortex of pressure around me. I worry about the light, the final product, the vision. Will it translate? Does it serve a purpose? Will my image tell a story? (Do I even care about any of those things?)
(Permitting moments to occur naturally with a subject allows a much more organic process. I find that I ‘plan’ things less and less these days. I’m not even sure why I TRIED to plan something for this particular day, thinking about it now. I much prefer having an experience. To arrive, to connect, and let things happen from there. It’s very freeing, and I very much enjoy the process.)
Back to the plan…
Walking around and evaluating the light, I looked at all of the textures. I knew what I had PLANNED to do, but my brain wasn’t going to cooperate. Rushing things would prove to be pointless. I preferred, instead, to find my subject in her bathroom while she was getting ready, and I settled onto the cool tile of the vanity counter. Leaning there on my hip, hands jammed into my pockets in a comfortable way and legs crossed at the ankles, idly following the grout lines with my toe, we began to talk.
We talked. And talked. And talked. And pretty soon we realized that two entire hours has passed. Without pretense or posturing and from a place of complete honesty, we shared so many important thoughts and feelings that echoed through those bathroom walls. Those words floated around our heads and filled the space until we couldn’t squeeze another word in. Looking up, we felt achieved and lightened and communed with the experience of sharing.
(And this is where the words start to spin…so bear with me.)
We had a plan.
But it would have been false. It wouldn’t have been authentic to follow through with that ‘plan’ based on the depth of our animated and emotive conversation. We talked about expectation, and labels, and rigidity and standards. How we so often (unknowingly or inadvertently) assign our value from what someone else sees, what label they place on us. How we become apologetic about the space we take. Trying to fit ourselves into these tiny boxes of expectations for the safety and comfort of others, because anything less would be messy and complicated and chaotic. And that’s not nice.
Labels, when we hear them often enough, become a part of our mental fabric. Flawless. Fat. Skinny. Homely. Attractive. Gay. Straight. Perfect. (It hurts my heart to write ANY of those down, even in demonstration.)
We are not our labels.
I didn’t care if her hair was done. Or her makeup was on. Or that she had bruises or marks or loose hair from her bun. It only mattered that she was present. With me. Right then in that minute. There were no expectations, no preconceived ideas of what she ‘should’ be, no limitations or rigid boundaries. We had just experienced this beautifully easy conversation that carved out new pathways in our brains that would stay with us for hours afterward – days, clearly. And we got to share that, together.
She didn’t have to be ANYTHING to me. She just had to BE.
We mutually agreed to abandon our plans. And for the last few minutes that we spent together, we simply played with her shadow. She disrobed. We played music. She twisted and turned and reached and contorted – one split-second in exquisite distortion, and the next, lean and precise – I shouted direction over the music and she tried to oblige…and then I saw her stop.
She looked over her shoulder at her shadow. And she began to cry.
I put my camera down. Tell me. Tell me.
“I just wanted my shadow to be perfect.”
The realization of what she has just said hit her in the gut. It was that epiphany that brought tears to her eyes. And therefore, to mine. The last two hours of floating words came crashing down out of the air and around our shoulders. There they were, littered on the floor around our feet.
We paused. We nodded in communed agreement once again. A period – no, an exclamation point! – on our entire conversation. Mentally, we picked up those words. Just because they had fallen didn’t mean that they had lost their weight.
I took this photograph.
I didn’t sleep that night. But I did spend an hour in my bedroom, in the glow of the table lamp, casting shadows on the wall.
I am so grateful for that experience, that morning, those words. Even if they fell from the sky, they meant a lot to me. And we’ve picked them up together, dusted them off, and tenderly put them back in our pockets for another day.
I have a grateful heart.