Starting Over

“A crisis takes place when the old has not died and the new has still not been born.” — Bertolt Brecht

Before every therapy appointment I decide I’ve squeezed this lemon to it’s fullest, rehearse my departing speech and set off to deliver it. My therapist asks, “So. How are things?” and I take 90 minutes to respond, peaking with agitation around the middle and quieting with resolution toward the end. I leave feeling light and inspired like Amelie Poulain after returning the tin full of childhood objects to Dominique Bretodaux. I go to Starbucks to journal; oldies are playing and I forgive life for it’s ills thinking, “Okay life, you’re alright. You can stay.” And I pencil in my next appointment, forgetting why I wanted to stop. Like the meandering thicket of creative life, I find the sessions about 90:1 in thicket-to-gem ratio, but the gems make me return to the task. At my last appointment my therapist said of a certain family-of-origin-slash-marital-dynamic-that-shall-not-be-named: “that’s the entrance to the country of chaos for you.” Damnit Sharon. (Side note: The Country of Chaos, a new memoir by Anastasia Pagonas Campos?)

If I had to name my current chapter in that book it would be Kill Your Darlings And Other Things I Heard in College That Make Sense Now. It’s a phrase I first heard in my Personal and Exploratory Writing class with the brilliant Lois Roma-Deeley. It was my first semester of school and I signed up for the course on the premise of taking “only fun classes” (the others were drawing, art history and philosophy… come to think of it that was the best semester of my life and it’s been all downhill from there).

“Kill your darlings.”

She said it as she said most things: like we already knew the answers and she was the emissary sent only to wake us from our slumber. Of course, it means excise the mediocre, regardless and especially because of your feelings about it. Delete the chapter you spent three years perfecting. Toss the photo you climbed Montu Picchu to take. Put your childhood dog down. It’s what’s needed, it’s for the best, but it will kill a small, thriving, important part of you. Because although it’s time has passed, you love it.

Oh art, usher of many deaths. This quote has been attributed to everyone from Ginsberg to Faulkner. I can relate: such was the case with family photography for me. In no way could I (with integrity) jam that work to fit my creative bent. Unless I paid the families instead of the other way around, which I considered. No, all of those photographs were a good thing for the form they inhabited, they got credit in the school of Something Good Christian Girls Do, but were not created with the voice to which I feel bound. It was a lot of time (ten years) for a precious few insights, but it produced the singular realization I needed to discover my body of work: that the only reason I photographed families was to photograph children. Time to start over.

I’ve seen other artists do this and watched on with respect, knowing the bravery it takes to walk away. Not just from a business but from a public brand that says, “this is who I am. This is my work.” Remember when Mumford and Sons released their electric album and we were all like YOU’RE DEAD TO ME. We really like when artists stay in their lane and keep giving us what they’ve mastered. Especially with Instagram where we get it all-but-intravenously.

Lucky for the world artists have a perennial discontent with our work. Except for the first few moments of creation when we’re like, “Bow to me Ansel!!!” we tend to crawl back into our lowly position of not-yet-there; ever-moving toward the thing that seems to better-capture the impulse within. I’ve read how many artists in their 60’s circle back to the work they made as a child. The thing that arose spontaneously before awareness of self, what Annie Dillard called the “dark object I could not ignore”. If that is the case I may have a career of collages made from war photography books in my retired future. When I look back at my early works, I see the seeds; the premonitions of what would become my lifetime callings to explore. It feels like lost time until I think of it as a necessary overcorrection unto the final, personal, permanent clearance I gave myself in 2017. Go forward, make art.

I’ve been inching up to this confession (grab your smelling salts): I deleted all of my Instagram. And it feels like a $100 haircut. After Eleanor was born I set out to use the space as a mini-blog; chronicling creative experience and my journey learning 35mm. I wrote and wrote and wrote, often exceeding the character count and revising to fit the limitation. It was fun. I did it with one hand while nursing. I learned the fundamentals of film. I functioned like a photography influencer (a thing?) talking about creating while I documented my children, my world and my thoughts.

As I was talking with a friend one day about my desire to hire a nanny she said affirmingly, “You’re making time for you.” I grimaced. I’m making time for the work, I thought. But then I thought, what work? Taking flat lays of my cameras and films and writing five clapping emojis? In short: I have a body of work within that I haven’t yet started. When a tech at my lab saw my name on my negatives and said, “I know your Instagram! I love your work!” it was a bit surreal (and my ego smiled) but I recoiled. No, no, no, wait! That’s not my work, that’s just — stuff! A journal! And I realized: the photographers I admire use Instagram as a portfolio. I’ve been slow to realize I’d like to do the same.

So where am I headed? Conceptual work. Instead of documenting my daughters in the river, hiring a friend’s daughter to stand in the same river and execute some visual ideas that have haunted and hunted me for years. Paying her as a model, in gummy snacks and flowers. As for personal documentary work? Chronicling of travel and life? Always. But not any more at the expense of the greater work I long to create. Work that says something bolder; a subject matter outside of the loving and protective maternal gaze through which I’ve made a lot photographs in the last ten years.

Okay mom, you’re officially caught up on my creative process. That’s where I am today — I see how writing captions on Instagram has kept me from longer essays like these and the creative fulfillment they bring. And how creating one image at a time has kept me from filling a larger creative container: the photo book, the series, the exhibition. My baby is two and two months; my body and mental real estate are ready to accommodate an expansion. Funny thing is, I made this decision months ago but have been slow to implement it. Turns out it’s hard to change while the old thing still lives. It’s hard to replace your busted dresser when it still holds clothes. Killing your darlings is hard as hell. But every time I do it, I watch a new and yet ever-known work emerge.

Photographs taken in New York City in 2007, after the semester of “only fun classes” when I decided not to go to The New School for visual art as planned. These photo were part of my goodbye. Excavated from my hard drive for a project titled Early Works — a photo book covering my street & documentary work from 2007-2017; to be self-published in spring 2019.

Clearance to Create

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I visited Charleston this summer for two reasons: to see the south with adult eyes and to spend time with my beloved aunt and uncle. Aunt Lynn and Uncle Mark were primary shapers in my life growing up and if I’m secure to any degree it’s because of them and travel soccer. My conversations with my uncle are infrequent but deep; what lacks in frequency is made up for in conversations till 3 a.m. about life, change and frankly — myself. My dad is a wonderful provider. He loves me deeply (proof here). But he would never state an insight about me or my life, sentences that might start with, “I know you, and…” or “given your history.” If you have someone in your life who can speak to your frame in this way, cherish that person. My Uncle Mark likes to tell the story about how he was the first person to see my baby butt enter this world (my dad was at work, pre-cellphones) and has felt a kinship with me ever since. So it is.

Over lunch at Magnolia we began talking about my creative journey. My hard-left into Christianity at 20 years old from a life of atheism, art, drugs, men, self-abuse, live music, boredom, anger and far too much myopic journaling. He saw that change happen. He saw me cover my back in garish tattoos at 15, then saw me get married at 21 in my proverbial bonnet and jean skirt and change my identity (and e-mail) to Mrs. Matthew Campos. Apparently he observed all of this with serene clarity, giving me the space to overcorrect. He shared how his son (my cousin) called him with concern about my art. That I would be giving up my life as an artist upon entry into this new world, which, from across the country could not be discerned between church and “new religious movement” (the secular word for cult).

We talked. I cried. And I let those god damn tears fall right in the middle of my shrimp and grits. It’s a difficult thing to face: that I gave up creating seriously for ten whole years. I was mad at myself for surrendering what had always been my sole confidant: art. Thinking that I could be functional and well without it, never mind happy. And then a diffuse anger that the gods allowed me to make such lasting personal decisions at 20 years old. And finally sad for the body of work that sits dusty in my mind. But wait! I was making a change. Here I sat. I travelled. Without my family. TO TAKE PICTURES. Progress. And Uncle Mark said something that blew me away.

“You needed that.”

Wut? He told some stories; and I remember just how deeply I lived out of the destructive, unstable inner world of the creative empath. How I had built a thicket of literature and music around me, a worldview of irreverence and self-destruction-as-rebellion. And the answer to healing was a machete. Intense people can require intense intervention. Or maybe that’s all of us. But to think those years were not wasted for my work, but needed. To prepare. To cleanse. To learn how to eat more than coffee and energy bars. To navigate the world sober for the first time. To read corny but practical Christian living books all with the title of “_____ Matters” (Holiness, Culture, Gender, take your pick). To make friends with virginal, unworldly young women and give them a chance. To conform for a while. To take a break from emotional turbulence. To attend 500 baby showers. To make some sort of peace with the brutal and bloody and incomprehensible cross — something I had alternately ignored or laughed at but which is big enough to require a ten year reckoning.

I sighed. I grieved. I explained how I had always planned to return to my art — at 50. After my babies were raised, as generally recommended by my church and peers. Telling this story to a person who has watched me develop from the beginning was a unique catharsis. Therapy 2.0. I have always said my art is like my neglected third child. The guilt toward not caring for it is searing and disorienting. I’m entering a space now of deep approval of this baby. Without reference to the thoughts found in any other human mind. Living out my need to create and what’s more: calling it good. Being able to see these past ten years as less of a detour and more of a natural, necessary unfolding has lifted a final barrier for me. To give myself clearance to create on the strongest possible basis: as an image-bearer. Now all that’s left is the open vista of what the work could be.

Anastasia

 Uncle Mark holds my bag as we walk to lunch. Charleston, 2018.

Uncle Mark holds my bag as we walk to lunch. Charleston, 2018.


Film: Ilford HP5
Cameras: Canon Sure Shot, Canon AE-1

Self-Advocacy and Psychedelic Blues

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Confession: the word self-care makes me squirm. Not because it’s bad (it’s wonderful) but because it reads as slightly sentimental to me. To care for the self is a beautiful thing, but I feel embarrassed to phrase it with a millennial buzzword. It reminds me of when my yoga teacher has us hug ourselves at the end of the class and I’m like lady… c’mon. As the students around me embrace themselves in a cathartic sigh-hug I am think-shouting, "have you no shame people?” The dude in the corner and I give ourselves a quick, respectful tap-hug and move the hell on. Of course this says more about me than the hug.

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I’ve tried some skin routines. Various activities alone like reading at a coffee shop into the night, which is fantastic. It’s all nice. I buy myself perfume and it definitely makes me feel like I matter to myself. The woman that I am — not the mother or wife, daughter or friend. The person who picks out the lingerie, who favors red-orange lipstick over magenta hues and who took a painting class this summer because dammit I have to do something low-pressure and unnecessary every once in a while. But the dynamics around this woman have changed mightily in the past five years. Birth into motherhood will do that to ya.

So the phrase I’ve come to like and center with regard to caring for the inner woman is self-advocacy. Self-care feels like making sure I’m well cared for, which I could grow in as well. I’m a solid 50/50 in most areas, like I work out every day but struggle with the same emotional eating problem many kids-of-immigrants do: food = love. The difference between care and advocacy to me is the ability to protect my boundaries. Said another way — my values. Ensuring a seat at the family table for these has had every effect that self-care promises. Refreshment. A sense of feeling grounded. Self-respect. Pain old joy. It is a new and learned skill for me.

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Knowing what I like isn’t new. Knowing my boundaries isn’t either. But communicating calmly and clearly about it is, to my people but firstly to myself. Acceptance without feeling small and guilty. It’s a new and glorious territory and it feels like womanhood to me. An example? Opting for non-traditional holidays like a hike and takeout for Thanksgiving with a $100 bottle of wine. This feels right to me this year. I can proceed on that basis, shelving the noise that so easily fills my mind about what I’m supposed to do and be. I need to create one of those line graphs that says, “Is this noise?” If yes then ignore it and move forward. If no then listen to it and adjust. Simple enough in theory.

These photos were taken on a day trip to West Fork Trail in Flagstaff, AZ. Although we know the one and only rule for day trip success with kids (go to bed early and wake up early) we never, ever put it into practice. Instead we wake up too late, I spend an unnecessary amount of time getting ready, Matt starts a to-do list at the last minute (like clipping his nails?!) and we get out the door at about 10am, arriving in time for two hungry children to unravel. However! The magic powers of nature always transform the girls into two focused, happy nymphs capable of playing past their nap times. Oh the rocks we threw. The trails they explored on their own, unhindered. The sticks, the leaves, the dirt on wet feet. The wading in perfect-temperature streams on an 80 degree day.

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How does this relate to self-advocacy? Maybe it doesn’t. Or maybe this is the most important act of self-care (eh) I do for myself in this stage. Being outside with film camera in hand despite precarious funds and the disproportionate work it takes to achieve. A day’s full of commuting, gas-station stops, snacks ad infinitum and emotional toddler instability in exchange for about 4 hours of this. But the this! Nothing can replace it. Self-advocacy says without guilt: I recognize my need to feel the sun on my skin, hear the crunch of desert paths under my feet and be released from “the tyranny of eternal routine” as one writer put it.

I recently did an exercise in Diane Pool Heller’s audiobook Healing Your Attachment Wounds. Attachment is something Matt and I have studied and explored a lot over the years because frankly, we have needed it. We found this exercise illuminating for different reasons. Without transcribing it word for word, the author leads you through this hypothetical: imagine your mother while you were growing up, and imagine her dominant mood. Now imagine her surrounded by the resources she needed. Wise friends, a loving partner, faithful spiritual teachers, a thriving expression of her purpose, a strong body. She is fully supported and held, and takes responsibility for maintaining those supports. Now observe how you feel.

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I got two things from this exercise. Number one was how it gave me a deeply somatic, embodied compassion toward my mother’s anger growing up. She was dealing with an abusive, alcoholic husband and didn’t yet have the boundary-drawing skills she would later learn. She had some support, but didn’t know how to maintain or expand it. In short: she didn’t yet understand how to self-advocate. Secondly, the lesson that shined forth bright as day was this: as I advocate for myself, my daughters are released. They don’t have to fill in the gaps (small or large) where I lack fulfillment and meaning. They are free to self-advocate for themselves as they grow without having to consider whether that will untether or disorient me. Mic drop.

All of this is represents the ideal. Today they are two and four. Today they demand “mama hold you!” when they need their needs met. I teach them to care for their bodies little by little, tooth-brushing by tooth-brushing. As I learn the discipline myself, I hope to teach them how to both care and advocate. That no human relationship (spouse, pastor, parent, friend, teacher) can replace that role. I am learning how to speak for the person deep within myself like she’s my deaf and mute and deeply loved child. I can say “this is what is needed right now” because I know her nature. I am learning to say the hardest thing of all: “this is acceptable, and this is not.” I will care for you. I will advocate for you. Which is another way of saying fight. Which is another way of saying love.

Anastasia

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Film notes:

These photos were shot with 35mm Psychedelic Blues Film on my Canon Sure Shot point and shoot. I’ve been curious about this film for a long time! Although 99% of users seek it for it’s colors, I knew right away that I wanted to shoot then desaturate. The pre-exposed light leaks feel like a dream to me. Like remembering. It’s so hard for me to hold onto the warmth of my memories; it’s like water in my cupped hands. So I am ever-seeking mediums that allow me to capture that feeling in visual form. When I see my pictures, I remember.

Although I was feeling cocky about the Sure Shot since I got it over the summer, rolls like this remind me that this ain’t no SLR baby. I’m starting to want more control again, specifically of exposure. However nothing beats the size and shape of the compact camera. So a high-end compact has now moved from Eyeing One to Needing One. Those never-ending lists.

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We Are The Lucky Ones

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Growing up I knew exactly how many channels I could scan on the radio before he stuffed the nob with blunt force, yelling a string of Greek expletives. Country, soft rock, fine. But scan a rap song? Scan a boisterous pop anthem one too many times and now it’s time for mandolins. Or the ultimate punishment: country, his favorite because he grew up as a boy in rural Greece watching John Wayne. After a period of my prolonged sulking he’d ask from the driver’s seat, “Ah you there?”

He was here for five days and as I cared for my girls alongside him I kept thinking: he did a good job. He doesn’t know how I vote. The only time he affirmed me verbally was when I was chopping parsley really fast and I was so shocked that I cut my finger. I have no memories of him being interested in my interests other than teasing in the way men of that time and generation related to their daughters. In staccato accusations but with warm eyes. “Clicking, clicking, clicking!” he says of my picture taking.

I had two goals for my Dad’s visit this year: ask him if he has a will and tell him he was a good father.

When we moved to Arizona from New York when I was 12 he visited faithfully every year. He flew me to his one bedroom brick apartment in Hackensack and I’d spend half the time in the city and the other half in diners with him. When we are together we eat, punctuated by coffee. He gives me cash in handfuls and mutters not to spend it. He asks me seriously. “so how you makin’ up” with his brow furrowed. This is his one serious question and I give one serious answer; after that it will be business. Observing how I parked. Talking about the price of gas and how much I make an hour. Telling me of my sisters boyfriend, “he’s asshole. I no think so.”

I’d describe him as remote but kind. The kind of kind people not from New York don’t get (he screams most things and talks on the offense 100% of the time ie. “Dad, look at the sunset!” “Sunset? What sunset? Sunset here there everywhere same.”) He would absolutely die for us but isn’t capable of saying, “I’m proud of you.” Not because he doesn’t feel it but because it isn’t his first or second or third language and he doesn’t know the grammar of it. He sent all necessary parenting messages through these actions: bringing us to the arcade and disappearing behind a Greek newspaper. Standing at my soccer games with his hands behind his back. Setting down a plate of lemon rice and chicken still steaming and sprinkling parsley on top. I never feel more loved than when my husband cooks for me. I ask him to set down the plate just so.

Seeing Dad with my girls is a revelation that continues to surprise. His drunken smile as he watches them jump off the couch. How he handles them like glass sculptures. How he played Winnie the Pooh figurines and massively accommodates the slightest whimper. Actually I know about that last part; his going to comical lengths to lessen their discomfort like asking me to pull over on the side of the highway because Eleanor is crying. How did this person who brought no discipline and rarely said I love you develop a completely secure and happy attachment with his children?

In the back of my mind I wanted to create great portraits of him while he was here. But I lacked the initiative. To enter his space. And I was on a point and shoot kick. And my girls, my girls. I have the hardest time focusing on photographing when they’re around and my whole being is tracking their needs. But I shot a few rolls, and of course feel deeply grateful for what turned out. Dad at a restaurant, which is his most familiar if not happy place.

He stayed in my office. I bought a new air mattress even though a friend offered to lend me one. I spent the week stocking the bathroom with things he might need like 99 cent shaving cream. And also trying to anticipate any shit he might give me and head it off. I thought about the food he likes. What activities would please him, which are none. I worried about our lack of TV, which has always been the great buffer and soother of social awkwardness, but we have phones for that now.

He got in and settled into a routine: coffee and breakfast alone in the mornings, a walk to Dunkin Donuts because “Starbucks takes like a shit.” He joined us for a few kid-friendly outings (the Children’s Museum and the splash pad) but promptly headed to the car for a nap because “this is a woman’s and a children’s.” He napped when the girls did in the afternoon because he still works night shift as a truck driver at 75 years old. Then we met my sister for dinner, a relief because she babies us both and we let her.

Should I include this next part? The racism he keeps tight-lipped about around my Mexican husband and his mixed granddaughters who he loves. How we pulled up to the river and upon seeing mostly Mexican families he said, “I no think I like it,” and my sister and I knew exactly what was meant. How when we were at the food court of the mall and the girls were riding quarter-rides he showed me a picture of his girlfriend and said, “She can be a rill bitch.”

He hand-washed his clothes all week because he actually considers it less of a hassle. Eleanor watched as he hung them to dry on the patio. He told my girls deeply and openly, “I lav youuuu. I’m going to miss you!” and I stood aghast in the hallway. Maybe he said those things to me at that age! Probably. Until I became old enough to judge him. To see his eighth grade education and simplicity and hate it, which I did. To think that his accent made him less intelligent; in contrast to what waitresses and customer service representatives tend to think, he understands eons more than what he can express in English.

We ate our last meal together at True Food Kitchen, the girls becoming impatient despite lemonade refills and hanging from the table like drunk sloths. The restaurant was too loud. Too trendy. Too packed. We had the same exact thought at the same moment. He said it first: “There no diners here?” Not diners like we know. Denny’s has puffy linoleum booths but no “fat Alex”. He used to whisper to us that (fat) Alex had a toupee.

On the way to the airport I realized I hadn’t checked off my line items. So I asked him about a will point blank and he answered point blank, and that was that. And then I said, “before you go I wanted to tell you Daddy what a good father you have been to us.” And he said, “Your Uncle Jack alcoholic and his wife still stay with. Me I’m a good father, okay. But this the lucky ones.“ Which means his life did not turn out as planned. I never really knew this about him; how he views his situation with us as a Plan B that he still begrudges. Nevertheless, he picked us up at two and four years old and took us to diners by himself (an exceedingly modern thing to do!) He parked the car in front of Teterboro Airport in New Jersey so we could watch planes through smog. God how I loved those planes. Of course the planes meant nothing. We are the lucky ones.

Two New Episodes of Sometimes Pure Light

I had a half-caf latte this morning and by noon had cranked out two podcasts. My Creative Commandments and Working From Intent. These are both 15 years in the making — I do not tell a lie. I have been thinking about this stuff since I graduated high school and flung myself into the world of photography with my Canon Rebel. What are your necessary conditions needed to create art? Have you named them yet? Do you influence your subjects or take a hands off approach? Does your approach reflect a chosen philosophy an inherited one like it was for me? Join me as we dive into these questions and more on the latest episodes of Sometimes Pure Light, a capsule podcast series on creative life and calling.


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My creative commandments are the guidelines I’ve learned, been taught and discovered so far that make my creative life not only possible but flourish. Some of my favorites: center joy, work for the work and measure by devotion. I expound on these plus seven more like how I make myself an actual syllabus. These rules make creative life happen during my current season of life.


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Real. Posed. Fake. Authentic. Candid. Contrived. Us photographers use these words. It’s on our minds. In this episode I explore the meteoric shift in my work from documenting what was before me to becoming proactively hands-on with my subjects. I love capturing life, I love influencing it to my creative end. I pledge allegiance to both as each have a strong place in my work. What about you?


Thank you for listening! Drop me a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

See all episodes of Sometimes Pure Light here.

Wedding Polaroids at Historic Heritage Square

This beautiful bride found me through my polaroid work of a mutual Instagram friend. She knew she wanted classic, vintage film to capture her wedding. I love working with clients who feel drawn to my favored forms: polaroid, Super 8, Holga. Seeing these photographs makes me feel the actual moment in time. Though the event has passed, the artifact remains. What a beautiful thing.

Thank you Melanie and Sean for inviting me to capture your day.




Two Girls in Dresses on HP5

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Want to know a secret? I hate photography. I read the absolute minimum required to function each camera and film that I buy. I hate reviews. I hate specs. I hate numbers. I hate metering. I hate directions. I hate manuals. I am, in essence, an anti-technical photographer averse to the learning process. Which is why I am consistently drawn to point and shoots like the Polaroid SX-70, Holga 120N and Canon Sure Shot.

For me, emotion is principle. Composition is principle. Being able to press click at the decisive moment is what draws me back to photography over other mediums. Tuned into my sixth sense, I rest. This is my therapy and sauna and self-care package. Where I sleep; my bed. I applaud every person and personoid out there who thrives on the camera-as-machine model, who can perfectly calibrate their instrument to catch the wings of a hummingbird. But to inhabit that process makes my skin crawl. I have one aim alone and it’s an emotional one. To capture the Thing and keep it.


I recently heard a designer say of his work, “I like the shittiness” in regard to skipping some Photoshop smoothing process that designers know about. I thought yes! We Like Shittiness Club. This roll was horribly overexposed (I forget what I did since I never write things down nor actually learn) but that ended up lending a nice nostalgic grain to them. This roll is split between walking around the grounds of our neighborhood, candid shots at home and some seated portraiture. I am drawn to untouched nature. I am experimenting with how to document our daily lives on film (likely a few rolls of HP5 on Canon Sure Shot a month?). And I’m always inspired by a formal sitting, where the subject is a contributor. Since I haven’t shot that way in a long time, I decided to try it out again.

My sweet big girl. She was excited to do this. Afterward she “took my photo” after I had already emptied the roll. “Now close your eyes,” she instructed me like I had done to her. This girl is aptly named — Vivian, full of life. Participation is her strength. We had fun making these.

Eleanor “shh”ing Eeyore. I know you’re not supposed to have a favorite child, but at this point it’s out of my hands. I truly adore this baby/girl in an unrelenting way. Perhaps because she is still nursing. Perhaps because she may be my last baby. Perhaps because 18 months — 2 years is a golden age of blossoming of words and identity and wearing “packpacks” and sunglasses.

I shot this roll on the Canon Elan that my mom got me at a garage sale for $10. It does the job. I was experimenting to see if I’d like to leave the world of SLR forever, and I think the answer is yes. Although after scanning I often think, “shoot. I wish I had more control here.” I never wish for the process while shooting. Point then shoot is the most intuitive possible format for me; everything else feels bulky and makes me feel like a paparazzi (mamrazzi? which is worse?) while out. These are self-scanned. Woot woot!

Can we all raise our hands in hallelujah for HP5? There’s something about this film. I think it feels a lot like the photos in my dad’s photo box, especially when contrast is low. It gives me what I’m looking for: memory felt.

A with love

Cozette On Holga

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Holga, Holga... sweet, sweet Holga. With the level of love I have for these images Holga will be the name of my third child.

I became intruiged by Holga after perusing galleries on Flickr. But just like with most films and cameras that spark an interest, I see forms that compel me, but rarely the content to match. That was how I got started on SX-70 - seeing flowers and adult portraits and thinking, "photographs of children would be incredible in this form." So also with Holga.

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For those new to this camera, it's plastic. It feels like a cloud in your hand. It makes you feel like nothing can possibly be happening when you press the shutter. Which is a loud tink before you manually advance the film. It has less heft than a disposable, if you can picture it. It's called a toy camera for a reason. 

Have you seen that documentary about rock 'n roll with The Edge, Jack White and Jimmy Page? The Edge is the technician; equivalent in photographer terms to the gear-head with eight lenses for photographing the bald eagle that passes over an obscure rock formation 80 miles from his house once a year. It's about the detail. He is master of form. Jimmy Page is the soulful one. Like a traditional, old-school film shooter, he feels the ins and outs in his bones. He understands the blacks and whites, dodging and burning. He is the old dog. And then there's Jack.

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Jack shares a bit about his background (coming from of a family of 10 kids) and how thrift and ingenuity were central to his self-described low-income background in Detroit. It formed in him a passion for sound made on completely elemental objects. Remember making a guitar from string and a tissue box in kindergarten? He's that dude. And as a photographer Jack White would be using old brownies (he probably does), box cameras, and definitely, absolutely a Holga.

Although it does have a few manual controls, its a point and shoot. You the artist are dependent entirely on your eye, your heart and your skill to produce a photograph. There are crude, wonderful symbols atop the lens of one person, three people, a group and a mountain. Hard to mess up. As a maker, I absolutely thrive in these conditions. I love constraint. I love the nausea (yes nausea) of shooting film, especially knowing I only have 12 frames (or 10 in this case, because I accidentally overwound it at the start). 

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I once read in an Instagram post from a mother, "I am proud of how we are raising our kids." The thought was straightforward and beautiful. Pride in her work. I have tried to live in such a way where I can say that phrase to myself at the end of the night. Like life, it waxes, it wanes. I have found the same to be true with my work. But I am aiming for that goal, to be able to say: I am proud of the work I made. I feel that way with this roll, and for that I am grateful.

I took a different approach with this set. I asked a friend if I could photograph her daughter and paid her in flowers and gummy snacks. I made a shot list, half of physical starting points (like hands up or hugging yourself) and half of emotional states (small in a big world, light and shadow). Working this way draws out an entirely different skill set than I ever developed with digital. Of course the great benefit of digital is being able to click away, being highly responsive to your environment almost as though you're shooting video. A blessing and a curse.

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With film I have a different workflow. I intend. The work is not documentary, it is not reactive. It is composed. A specific end is sought. One of my husband and my's favorite movies is Ratatouille (we love animation, okay?) in which the antagonist (a food critic) says, "If I don't love it, I don't swallow." Not only is that a good modus operandi in life generally but is also my filmic philosophy. If the composition is not perfect, I do not press the shutter. Naturally, this causes quality to rise.

I remember watching an interview with well-known wedding photographer Jonas Peterson in which the interviewer asked him, "So what do you shoot for fun?" He replied with a smile, "weddings." I loved that answer! I saw the clip during a time when I was still shooting families on digital, clawing for a justification to keep going when I found it grating at best. I would soon realize that it was because shooting families gave me access to the thing I love to photograph: children.

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During this shoot there was a moment when I saw the light coming through my subject's hair. How can I describe the feeling? If panic were a good thing. Not bliss, not inspiration. A must-move-fast elation. An electricity, a happy panic. Photographing children on film is what gives me this delight. I have been thinking about why. Because of the juxtaposition I think; the innocence of childhood with the grit of film. Their great potential and great vulnerability. And film's tactile, worldly roots. A visual diary of curse and promise.

Do you shoot Holga? As a new convert, I am on fire for it and will try to convince you if you don't. That is, if you like dream-like imagery. If you connect with imperfection, distortion and filmic vignetting. And if you use photography as a portal, not to another world but to the world we know most intimately: feeling. 

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A with love

This Desert I Call Home

When I moved to Cave Creek from New Jersey (The Garden State) in seventh grade, I remember heading east on Carefree Highway and hearing my mom say, "This is it!" When I squinted I could see houses dotted in the basin of brown mountains. Some huge, imposing mansions halfway up and near the tops. No stores. No trees as I understood the term. I had never seen a saguaro before. 

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I hated the landscape for a good long while. The smell of creosote after rain (which I now love) made my sister and I gag. It took time to acclimate to the heat. To wear the right thing. To drink the right amount of water. To not walk, not take your bike, but definitely drive during five months out of the year. Elias showed me the washes.

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Although I lived in a development, many of my friends lived on dirt roads through thickets of mesquite and palo verde and prickly pear and jumping cholla and the usual suspects. Some of the houses were model homes - unique but sterile. But some captivated me, like the adobe homes in Mexico would do years later. I came to love the chalky, porous feel of saltillo tile on my feet. The sound of a car crunching rocks on the dry gravel. The small ranches erected in the 50s - when there was TRULY nothing here - that's the kind of house Elias lived in.

His dad was the mayor of Cave Creek when I knew him. That shouldn't conjure what normally comes to mind. Vince (I was to call him this, not Mr. Francia) was a passionate conservationist; noticeably, intimidatingly, warmly smart like his son, my friend. He smoked. He wore dated glasses. He had a wife named Amelia. They didn't have a dishwasher. I loved that house and the desert around it. It taught me how to feel cozy here; how when the sharp and harsh flora grew untamed, it could encompass a property with its arms. 

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Cut through the desert landscape are a series of washes. Before moving here I didn't know what that meant. Jagged, v-shaped tunnels with no top zig-zagging everywhere, everywhere. And when the rains came they would fill with fast water. But for the rest of the year I found home in them. I would sit in them and write in my journal. Smoke cigarettes stolen from my friend's mom. Burn poems about lovers. When I got older, we would hang out there was a crew and smoke weed. No phones to distract us from that most meaningful pursuit. And when a runner or someone walking their dog would show up in the distance, we'd run. Can you visualize it? It's a long ditch.

Somewhere in those ditches and on the roof of Elias's house (where I meditated for the first time - something my blue collar family would have laughed at) I fell for this inhospitable place. It doesn't welcome you like grass; you can't sit or lie down comfortably here. It's a sojourners beauty. Best interacted with by hiking. By ascending to mountain tops and looking at the rolling mountains like waves. So much housing, perfectly gridded streets. But in the desert - silence. Peace. Quiet, perservering life.

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Vince worked to preserve this place - Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area. I have hiked here as a teen cleansing myself from the battery and yelling of an alcoholic house. And it worked. Step, step, step. I have photographed here during college, using filters and modeling and having no bills but rent, food, gas and a cell phone. And now I bring my babies here to play in the creek when - against all possible odds - it sometimes fills with warm rainwater.

As I experiment further with film, I am learning how to match form and content according to my voice. When I have shot black and white 35mm of children, I have sometimes found myself wishing it were color. Polaroids befit pretty much any setting, but I try to use them strictly for artful ends instead of family documentation. There's something slightly sacrilegious to me seeing regular family happenings (like eating an ice cream cone) on SX-70. But if that same cone were being eaten in miraculous light - the $2.25 photo is miraculously justified. I tend to favor digital, consumer films and instax for memory-keeping.

These photographs were shot on Tri-X 400 using the $10 Canon Elan my mom got me from a garage sale, with the considerably more expensive Canon 24-105 L lens. The polaroids were shot on my beloved SX-70, who never fails to transform the quotidian into instantly drippy, meaningful memory. My intent is to shoot each readily-available 35mm film and as much rare, experimental and expired stock I can get my no-spare-money-for-extensive-film-hobby-but-somehow-I-press-on hands. Although people, portraits and the human story are my main photographic material, the urge to explore place is equally as strong. This is the desert I call home.

With love
A

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More Disposable Please

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CAMERA: ILFORD XP2 SUPER SINGLE USE

FILM: XP2 (C-41 PROCESS!)

Hi world. When I made up my rough, scribbled stuff-to-try syllabus for 35mm, disposable was at the top of the list. Come to think of it, a disposable was my first camera (which I loved, dearly). But when I took this one out of the package and felt it's non-weight and plastic-y advance wheel I was a little underwhelmed. So very used to the heft and commandeering metal of my vintage cameras I made a pretty quick tactile judgement against this instrument. Sorry friend. When I got scans back I repented.

The distortion, the grain, the marks that say "this was a physical object. A long coiled strip of reflective brown film." The more film I shoot, the less precious I am about pressing the shutter which feels delightfully transgressive. This will be an object forever? So what? I'm graduating from that shaky chihuahua who shot my first roll like I was on a desert island. With a gun pointed to my head. Take your pick of high-pressure your-life-and-the-lives-of-those-you-love-depend-on-this tropes. That was me. 

Shooting while mothering. Kind of like pushing two opposing magnets together, but I am learning to relax. To have Matt to take the stroller and run (pictured) and walk off by myself to breathe in some silence from which to See. Because I had underestimated this tiny plastic box, I shot half for family documentation and half for lowercase a art. Seeing now what it's capable of, I have dreams of laughter close up and faces pressed together with eyes closed. Not much different than my usual dreams, actually! But picturing them on this crackly film has more of these cameras in my Amazon cart.

Allow me an ode to this youngest of mine, whose climbing onto rocks then screaming out for help tops twenty times in a row on a good day. She doesn't yet have full grasp of our family rule, "only climb up if you can get down" so there she hovers over the rocky lava of the desert, pitiful, screeching and adorable. She has truly come into her own will this month, and hiking by herself gives her intense satisfaction. She walks ahead, looking back to confirm that it's okay. Go forth, Eleanor!

What I like about this film/body setup is the way it captures the harsh Arizona sun. It's still uncharacteristically cool for March right now (perfect this-is-why-I-live-here-80-degrees) but this BW captures the heat of the day. The cloudlessness we live under (a metaphor for life buried in there no?).

I'm still in that honeymoon stage with 35mm where I just like to see how something looks photographed. Cactus? Yes. Mountain? Hell yes. I haven't yet settled into that comfort and familiarity where I need to exert more effort to be satisfied. But it's coming. The light was high and harsh for these, and expectations low. Perhaps that was what felt actually experimental about this roll. Just shooting. Just hiking. We went on another hike recently and I got Most Ansel about my landscapes. I wanted them to sing. Not so for these. Just pictures. But film, film! You elevate the casual into something more. Verdict: more disposable please.

A with love