Photography saved my life. As cliche and repetitious that may sound, it’s true. Many things—people, songs, words, moments, so on—have saved my life as well but photography was, and still is, one of the few tools I wield that aptly communicates what I feel.
Even as a child, before I knew what photography was, I loved pictures. Whether I was taking them or viewing them, photographs were the coolest to me. I would spend what little allowance I had on disposable cameras. Mostly self-taught, years of fucking up helped me get to a decent place. No matter how shitty my photographs were, I continued. I continued when patronizing professors suggested I should put down the camera and look into curatorial studies. I continued when snobby photo majors with $3,000 cameras critiqued my blurred photos to filth. I continued because I knew I had to. There was something so gratifying in the way the click of the shutter and burst of flash birthed a physical image.
"I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera." - Gordon Parks
We live in a visually-stimulated culture. All we see are still images, moving images with sounds, moving images without sound, manipulated images, exploitative images, stimulated images. We consume until our dreams are nothing but manufactured, commodified images. Images can be so diluted that they become empty. Nothing authentic about them at all. I fear that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s empty. Are we cultural creators or borrowers? (Another debate for another time, I suppose.)
No matter how much I consume, I am still captivated by an image, digital or film, that can hold me still for more than a second. An image that excites and invites me to wonder, create fictional or factual narratives about it. An image that brings me outside of myself and immerses me into a different reality is a good fucking photograph.
I photograph to communicate. Because I’m no wordsmith and sometimes words get lodged inside my throat and brain from cognitive dissonance and words just don’t seem good enough and sometimes I spend too much time looking for the right words to explain or describe my world and sometimes the lack of words causes headaches, depression, and chronic procrastination masquerading as writers block and I don’t know what’s good or bad or enough and—
I pick up my camera. It’s weight in my petite, brown hands is a comfort. My mind isn’t working to dissect, theorize, or describe. I’m not worrying if my words are adequate enough. Because the click of my shutter and focus of my lens are good enough for me. Instead of beating my brain up trying to tell, like all great artists before me, I began to show.
The art of showing is forgetting, momentarily, trying to make sense of what I’m showing. I forget the need to explain. Everything is there to see.
Like, the way the big, full moon reflects over a deep, dark sea, shimmering under its light. Or the way my grandma’s 69-year old brown eyes are a mysterious mix of light and hope with yearning and sadness. Like how the sun rises over Honduran palm trees in the early morning, just as the moon begins to fade behind a pink-yellow-purple sky.
I'm tired of writing drawn out essays, repetitive in their descriptions about overcoming childhood trauma that I work daily to overcome. Or look through the thesaurus to find different words that essentially say the same thing. When a self-portrait can summarize all of that in one single gaze.
I want you to look me in my one good eye, and maybe even my prosthetic one, and witness the beautiful defiance within. I want the shape of my belly, swelling and poised, to be a testament of the confidence I manifested through darkness, tiring of feeling not good enough. The tracks of stretch marks flit across my brown scarred skin, creating poetry in each movement. I want my presence to linger even as you look to the next image. My photographs are, and always will be, not just documentation but a declaration: I am still here.
Before I think, the shutter blinks.
"The camera gave me an incredible freedom. It gave me the ability to parade through the world and look at people and things very, very closely." - Carrie Mae Weems
Images are powerful. If you can stir something deep, ancient within someone by a mere image, you have mastered an art just as ancient as that emotion. Some people wield a camera as a cowboy wielding a gun, shooting wildly with no aim and no direction. Some hold the camera, a weapon still, mindfully, watching and waiting for poetry to happen. There are people who know what they’re doing and others who think they know.
Photography is a tool, a weapon, a mode of expression. It’s a tool that shares stories of the interconnection of people from all walks of life. A weapon that unearths the darkness and evils of the world. A mode of expression that articulates identity and solidifies memories into reality because sometimes the mind can’t be trusted. And sometimes, neither can the image.
If you gonna shoot, shoot from the heart. But know where you're aiming.