Photography has long been a hobby for me, and I’ve always treasured old family photographs and the rich stories they carry with them, but it wasn’t until I became a mother that I became obsessed with the need to preserve and remember each phase and detail of my family life.
Last week I had the gift of rest. Time unplugged in nature is very therapeutic for me. This beautiful and restorative mix of rest plus nature allowed me the space to enter into a deeper place of reflection and one thing that I’ve been ruminating on is my photographic + creative process as the art of memory + place. I often try to recall all the people, places + spaces that hold special meaning for me. But the problem is my memory is not very good. It’s pretty shite tbh. I live with C-PTSD from an intersection of traumas in life, and one of the way that presents for me is a very opaque sense of memory, especially for the good stuff (trauma can really encode the shitty stuff while erasing the moments I actually wish I could remember). But I realized that this is part of my draw to the art of photography and my need to create. My artistic why is intertwined with photographs as memory-keepers for me; a way of connecting with my past, cherishing memories of people, experiences, spaces and places.
I make my living as a San Francisco portrait + fine art photographer and I think it is well understood the importance of photographing people as a visual record of who they are in any given chapter. And it is also widely accepted that experiences are something worth documenting (I wonder the ratio of vacation versus regular life photos that people take)? But I think there is an invisible subject in photographs that often gets neglected, and this invisible subject is PLACE. It is bittersweet for me, from not having images of places I wish I could remember in vivid detail, that really fuels my intent on creating images deeply embedded with a sense of place. I invite you to travel with me for a moment to the places and spaces that I wish I could revisit in single frame.
My beloved Grandma’s Home:
Some of my fondest memories as a kid were spent in my Grandma’s home. It was a haven of love and comfort. I wish I had a picture of us in her bedroom hanging clothes on the clothesline out her window… I wish I could see her dazzling jewelry stand again… I wish I had a picture of her expansive smile while cooking her famous chicken soup in her kitchen… I wish I had a photo of her backyard patio where I spent so many hours as a child. But I don’t have photos of any of these things and while the scent of her perfume still lingers in my memory,, she passed away over a decade ago, and as I more I try to hold on to my memories of her home and these beloved spaces, the more they seem to disappear from my memory at a heartbreaking speed.
My Climbing Tree and Woods Fortress:
I was a kid always in motion and my love for nature was there from the very beginning. I often experienced chaos within my home, but I sought solitude and peace in nature. There was a giant tree I adored climbing and an old upturned tree from a a hurrican and the wild uprooted base that I transformed into my imagination-fortress that were my safe places. Countless hours were spent in these spots. I was held in these spaces and I wish I could *see* them again in a photograph. I wish I could see little me in those places and step back in time to those important spaces that soothed and offered solace.
The Bedroom During My Peace Corps Volunteer Days:
After college I moved to South America as a Peace Corps volunteer. I spent 2 years living in a rural Andean village in Northern Peru and those years were transformative, filled with both daily living challenges but also countless beautiful moments. I took photos of dear friends, my host family and many of the experiences I enjoyed, but I wish I had the foresight to record the spaces that surrounded me during that time. I find myself trying to convey the bed I slept in with a plastic tarp over my head (that was there to catch rats as they fell off the bamboo rafters at night so they could climb back up onto the roof and not land INSIDE my bedroom –yuck)! I wish I had a photos of me at my desk and the window that overlooked the plaza in the small Andean village of 600 inhabitants that I got to call home for a few years. I wish I had a photo of my outdoor cold-water shower with the most magnificent mountain view or the hole-in-the-ground that forever sealed in my heart gratitude for regular access to flush toilets and indoor plumbing. I wish I had a photo of me and the English teacher + dear friend that I mentored, sitting on the bench in front of my house where we passed each afternoon preparing English lessons we would co-teach at the local high school. I wish I had a visual record of this time in my life that is forever imbued inside me but becomes hard to recall as the years pass by.
A Photo Story of My Birth:
In Spanish, to give birth, is expressed as DAR A LUZ which literally means “to give to light.” As a photographer, that expression is profound to me. When I was pregnant, I decided to have a home birth with my daughter and one of my biggest regrets is not hiring a birth photographer. I was in the birth zone during my labor and the whole memory of it is a softened blur, but I wish I had the foresight to have hired a birth photographer to show myself, and my daughter, the transformative and empowering story of her landing earthside. I want to see myself doing the incredibly hard work of labor. I want to see the apartment space that surrounded me. I want to see my partner, my midwives, and my best-friend that supported me for nearly 20 hours of labor. I want to see that birth tub in my bedroom that I spent so many hours in. I want to see my face the first moment I laid eyes on my precious daughter. I want photographs to transport me back to that time and place. I want a visual record of this life milestone.
These are just a few of the fading memories of spaces and places and memories that I wish I had in photographic record. Photography has the incredible ability to preserve moments and emotions, making them timeless. Making memories tangible. While I may not have images of all these meaningful places and spaces, it is that gift of bittersweet longing that absolutely inspires my creative work as a photographer. Through my lens, I hope to capture the essence of each experience and create imagery that speaks to the power of place and the depth of human emotions. My memory may be illusive, but photographs are a gift that offers my heart a window into the past.
**If you want to learn more about how I create photographic art of place and memory, please join my waitlist for the inaugural course launch of A SENSE OF PLACE.