What's really important is to simplify. The work of most photographers would be improved immensely if they could do one thing: get rid of the extraneous. If you strive for simplicity, you are more likely to reach the viewer. –William Albert Allard
I remember this time last year. I’d just made the heart-wrenching decision to move my mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, to a nursing home. In deep grief and denial, my younger sisters did not agree with this plan. I feared the loss of their love, worried I would destroy a lifetime of sweet kinship.
The struggle to keep my mother safe and well-cared for was set against the background of another battle, with the same goal, for my youngest son. His transition to college released the powerful demons of anxiety and depression and the spiral of all kinds of ways to escape.
I felt my life unraveling. There was no way to keep everyone happy and safe, no way to make everything right. No matter how hard I tried, I was never enough.
I needed something positive to focus both my eye and mind on. So I came up with an idea. Inspired by the deeply moving photographs of Rebecca Lily and her 365 Project, I set out to establish a personal practice of my own. I’d take one picture, every day, for an entire year. The project would push me to become a more proficient photographer and to develop my own style. And hopefully, heal myself in the process. So I jumped in on March 1, 2016.
I started with pictures around my home, staying close to my comfort zone of still life photography. Gradually I moved to include landscapes and scenes around town and even people. I began to work up the courage to ask all kinds of people if I could take their photograph. And I loved it!
I kept a running list of quotes and poems from some of my favorite writers – and these quotes came to life with my photographs. I found that I loved writing, and the combination of words and photos proved to be magical for me, a way to express my innermost feelings and aspirations.
This has been an extraordinary experience, and in many ways the project took on a life of its own. I didn’t expect the project to shift and change and grow along the way. I didn’t expect an audience, except for a few close friends and family. I didn’t expect my words and experiences to touch so many people. I didn’t expect the friendships that developed.
Day-by-day I changed, so little at a time that at first, I hardly noticed. But now I see the total effect of this practice. I’ve learned that kindness is not complete until I expand its boundaries to include myself. I carried in my hands the tool for healing, my camera, and every press of the shutter acted like medicine for me.
"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home."
-Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky's Red River Gorge
I am thankful to Rebecca, my kindred spirit, for her abiding support and friendship and to the many kind readers who are so much more than followers. To my letter-writing friend, Polly, who kept me going with a steady stream of encouragement and good things to read, I reach out across the miles to share a hug. And to my husband, Dave, who kept me company every day and waited while I took just one more picture ... l love you forever and always.
These 365 pictures are the story of my healing.
Can there really only be one day left in this year full of pictures?
There is contentment in enjoying a meal with my husband – down a country road, in an old gas station turned café, where art and coffee intermingle. In this sweet place every table is set with a placemat adorned with an illustrated map of Virginia, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, salt and pepper shakers, and packets of sweetener. We bring to the table our gratitude so that we elevate this simple meal to a special treat. I am glad that we stopped waiting to have fun and enjoy our life.
The weather here has been unseasonably warm, and today felt like spring rather than winter. Much too beautiful to stay inside. Much too beautiful for chores or errands, cooking or cleaning, or any kind of work. A day to be enjoyed outdoors.
We took a drive to Tappahannock and watched folks fish along the Rappahannock river. We struck up a conversation with Henry and his family. Henry proudly told us he is 92 years old and just celebrated his 72nd wedding anniversary. His son opened their cooler to show us the catch of the day - lots of catfish - which they assured us are really good eating despite their unfriendly appearance.
There's truth in the bumper sticker slogan, "Even a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work."
I've always admired creative souls who share photographs of their morning coffee, embracing the day with a quiet connection to the world outside the window, the work of the day that awaits, and those they love often still sleeping. The notion of beginning each day with a brief time of meditation or thought appeals to me. But this has not been my usual routine. Instead I swirled in busyness, trying very hard to avoid whatever feelings I might be wrestling with. It is only now, as this project winds down, that I am learning to linger, to savor, to find delight in slowness. This day welcomes me with an atmosphere of warmth and lightheartedness.
The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life. –William Morris
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. –Melody Beattie
If this project were a race, I might like to finish strong, pulling out all the stops, fast pace, head held high, triumphant.
But this project is not a race. It is more like a series of training sessions, a daily discipline of simply showing up and offering what I have to give.
This project will not end with a finish line or a medal or cheers from the crowd.
I feel pride and joy – and relief, too. I will miss it, because it felt so good, because it was hard but always worth the effort.
And so these final days will be my “cool down” phase. My photographs will be restful, graceful, peaceful, and thoughtful.
Maybe no words at all.
Certainly, no weighing of merit.
It will be enough to finish.
Memory triggers are a powerful phenomenon, often taking us back in time to places and events that were filled with joy or marked by deep sadness.
Making coffee, using the old Farberware percolator, I am reminded of the first days when I really knew something was seriously wrong with my mother. She had always loved her cup of morning coffee, usually accompanied by a Little Debbie donut stick. When she stopped making her own coffee and drove to the local 7-11 or McDonald’s, I figured she liked the social aspect of going out for her coffee. And she did. But there were other reasons for this change of habit.
Through a series of visits, during a snowy time when she couldn’t drive, I came to see that she could not follow the steps to make coffee. She forgot where to put the coffee and the water, how much, and which buttons to press. Hoping to solve the problem, I bought a series of simpler coffee makers for her. We tried a little version of the Faberware percolator, a mini Mr. Coffee, and finally one of the single serving Keurig coffeemakers. I wrote the instructions out in simple language using Post-It notes and called to talk her through the process. We practiced, making pot after pot of coffee.
And then she just stopped drinking coffee all together. She said she didn’t like it anymore, but when a friend or family member stopped by for a visit, they always brought her a cup. And she was happy with the treat.
I can’t look at my own coffee pot without remembering how much Mom has lost. But in just a short while I will roll into Carriage Hill Health Center and walk into Memory Lane where coffee is served to her piping hot each morning.
I recently read an excellent book on the subject of Alzheimer’s disease, Before I Forget by B. Smith and Dan Gasby. This book tops my list of must-reads on the subject. I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone facing this struggle.
I’m reading, Present-over-Perfect, Leaving Behind Frantic For a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, by Shauna Niequist.
I am deeply absorbed in this book, reading a little at a time so as to feel the full impact of the words, taking notes, reading passages aloud to my husband.
I cheated and skipped ahead to look at the last chapter.
The book ends with the poem, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver.
And these are my favorite lines.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
as there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.
One of the greatest gifts of this yearlong photography practice has been the joy of everyday adventures. As we drive along the roads of the place we grew up, we know we are home.
We are comfortable here.
We turn down Poor Jack Road. We are looking for Nomini Bay off the Potomac River. We are a little lost and a nice young man in a truck stops to set us straight. With directions geared to landmarks rather than GPS devices, we find our way to river views.
On either side of rolling hills, there are farms and silos and tractors and the beginnings of the planting season set in motion.
This is not my favorite type of photograph. I am generally not drawn to vivid colors and harsh texture. It kind of hurts my eyes and makes me want to squint. Images such as these are sometimes edited to increase clarity, contrast, saturation and sharpness. Too much of a good thing.
Still, when I walked behind the abandoned building near the coffee shop, I found a virtual tapestry of cascading colors along the corrugated metal. I paused to compose, focus and connect with the elements of the scene. It wasn’t until I pressed my eye to the viewfinder that I saw the full effect – like a surprise that takes your breath away.
When you take longer looks, you’ll expand your definition of beauty as well as the possibilities for your subject matter. You’ll be more open to surprise and fall in love with the world around you. You’ll have more confidence in what you are saying and that will show in your photographs. And, you’ll make fewer photographs, a win-win all around. –Kim Manley Ort
I have long found that my work is most meaningful to me as an expression of my life and my relationships with the world. Without such relationships, aesthetics alone, while enjoyable to view at times, do not move me to create. In creating I need more than just beauty; I need a story—a good one—and I need to be a character in that story. And my story unfolds here. –Guy Tal
It’s not about the view along the river; it’s about this particular view. I am comfortable in this place where I walk, stop to chat with people and watch fisherman along the riverbank. I want to immerse myself in this place, to interact with it, to feel at home. In this way, the pictures I make matter.
Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. –Simone Weil
My love language is quality time. Truly, the most kind thing anyone can do for me is to spend time with me. Attention speaks to my heart in a way no gift or card ever could.
My mother's love language is donuts! She is very happy in this picture with a strawberry-filled donut fresh from Paul's Bakery.
Happy Valentine's Day!
Love is letting go of the perfect picture. –Alain De Botton
I try to photograph my mother often, hoping to set these images of her in my mind forever. She is mostly good-natured and happy to see me or my sisters or other family and friends. She is well-cared for and safe and this room is her little home now. We do all we can to make her space warm and comfortable. Still, the visits often leave me with a deep sense of sadness. The simple truth is that I miss my mother. And having her here and not here at the same time breaks my heart.
The life and struggles of ordinary people inspire me to make realistic pictures like this one.
Right place. Right time.
What happens when we’re a beginner, again, and bring our creativity and sensibility to a process, without any of the expectations or self-judgment that saddles the work we do with an audience in mind? What happens when we make simply because we want to, or because it occurred to us, or because it’s our mode of being in the world? –Holly Wren Spaulding
These days I whine about having to cook – a lot. It’s much more fun to watch someone else cook, eat the delicious meal, and leave the cleaning.
I’m taking a few lunch time cooking classes at The Kitchen at Whittingham in downtown Fredericksburg. Last month the theme was The Lunch Lady and we learned how to make homemade sloppy Joe, French bread pizza, and apple crisp. This month the topic was Things You Never Tried to Do with Tortillas. We joined Chef Chaz Kilby in the kitchen to make mini tortilla cups with egg and cheese, tortilla French toast, and asparagus cigars with dipping sauce.
Some of the participants helped to cook. I took pictures instead.
Some people offered to pitch-in for clean up. I took more pictures.
Some of the ladies demurely turned down carbs. I put my camera down and ate everything on my plate.
Today was a good day!