October.

On this month – my birthday month – I reflect on my life and wonder who I am. Most of my friends have finished having babies. Our children are growing up. Most of my friends have had long term relationships and I would estimate over half of them have have left those relationships. Always it was unexpected from the outside. Always they looked like they were carved in stone but they dismantle them until not even the shadow remains. No more substantial than dust in the wind.

We’ve bought houses and sold houses or left houses. We’ve had career changes. Most of my friends are artists and a good many of my friends who are artists do not use their art to put food on the table anymore. They’re working 9-5 jobs. They’re studying. Many of my friends are in this stage of metamorphosis where you begin to take stock and look around and wonder – who am I? Who am I now that I am no longer someone’s wife? Who am I now that my kids are growing up?

I go away for a few days over my birthday. I go to the beach and it rains. The sea looks angry and the sky is like a bruise. My anxiety flares and I go to bed early. I wake at 5. My whole body hurts. I’ve been so tense all night it feels like someone has taken to my body with a bat. My eyes feel like they have the flu. My head hurts. I’m still not that well and my jaw is out of place from clenching it. I cry. And to top it off my partner has written this absolutely beautiful tribute to me on Facebook for my birthday of which I feel unworthy. I am fragile this day. I feel like I am made of fine glass and with the smallest vibration I could shatter.

We play Scrabble and he always wins. I become obsessed with making certain words and hoard my tiles until I find the specific one I’m waiting for so I can make it. Sometimes the place I am planning to put it disappears and I miss the chance, sometimes my waiting pays off. Sometimes I let him make words that aren’t allowed because I love him.

_MG_2936

The rain clears and we walk along the beach even though it is still cold and windy. I watch a sea bird hover above the sea and dive down into the water and pull up a fish. It carries it away and I am happy for the bird and sad for the fish. I look for shells for my littlest girl. I only pick the prettiest ones for her. I like the small shells the best, tiny and intricate. I see one in the sand and pick it up but see that it is broken along it’s edge. I go to throw it away but I remember that I am broken too and people still love me. I decide to keep it. When I come home I put it on display in my room near my collection of seaglass.

IMG_2887.JPG

We go to film night at the girls school and they both win awards. They’re nominated so many times I lose count. It’s a long night for the little children and my small girl falls asleep on my lap for the second half, missing her own performance in one of the films.

It rains again. It feels like it has never stopped raining and for me the rain is both cleansing and holds a sadness that I cannot name. When it use to rain and I lived out west I would hole up in my house. The wood floors would get a sheen on them from all the moisture in the air. Sometimes it felt as though the walls were weeping along with the sky. The pets would smell damp and the grass would become untamed and we would sit inside and listen to the rain on the tin roof and we wouldn’t go out because we were all scared of flooding. I would close my eyes and see the brown churning water and the darkness and the unknown. I am grateful when it rains in a tentative kind of way. The same way you can be grateful for the warmth of a fire and not get too close. I hear it now, trickling into the tank and the weeds grow tall along the fence line. My washing I forgot to remove yesterday hangs low with the weight of water and so do I.

_MG_2947.jpg

I’ve been thinking about beauty. A part of me always longs for order. That instagram prettiness – white and greys. Minimal. The only colour is splashes of green from plants. Another part of me enjoys rustic beauty, bare floorboards, tongue in groove walls, a mandala of colours, an old couch with a throw on it to hide the bare patches. Eclectic hodgepodge. The character of a place. The overgrown lawn, the rusting tricycle, children with unbrushed hair, a bruise, a smudge of dirt, an unwashed window. I don’t know why I am drawn to these things. Something in me is unfurling.

I’ve begun to see the beauty of brokenness.

Purple Flowers.

It’s been just over a year since I began this blog. The day I actually broke went unmarked in any calendar because I’m not sure exactly what date I would go from. Breaking happened slowly, me fraying at the edges for two years before I tore apart all at once.

And I have gotten so much better. I get up and go to work, assisting other people. I come home and I work quietly, editing for photographers and carefully correcting colours and clearing newborn skin. I take my children to school and their appointments. I lie beside my small children at night and read them bedtime stories. I go with my lover to lunch and he eats the rest of my salad when I can’t finish it. Together we take the children to the beach where my daughter collects and entire basket of shells and we have to convince her to ‘leave some for other people’. I buy myself bedside tables from Ikea and he convinces me to sit on the trolley on the way back to the car and runs with the trolley until I’m breathless with laughter and fear we will crash into a column. I pay bills. I do my hair. I’m blissfully normal.

I sleep.

And this is not something I take for granted anymore. Some nights when I don’t have an early shift I sleep for 9 hours. This time last year 5.5 was normal. This time last year I woke to darkness every day and watched the rising of the sun and tried to breathe and survive. Now days I still sometimes wake before the sun and I watch it rise in my car with a cup of tea in a travel mug as I inch along with the other commuters.

I try to dream.

And my dreams are of fairy lights and lace. My dreams are of plaster dust and lavender. The crown of a newborn head, tiny crescent fingernails. My dreams are of wrinkles and white hairs. I throw the tablecloth of my life out before me and smooth it flat, I am careful to choose what I lay upon it. I watch the wheel of life turn and feel no sadness at it’s passing.

I wake one morning and reach for my camera. My four daughters and I escape the house like puppies set loose and we enter the outside which is different with a camera. Inside the lens everything fits into a box. We find some purple flowers in the grass by the side of a road and we stop to shoot in them. Inside the lens it doesn’t matter that cars are driving past and construction is happening beside us. It doesn’t matter that this spot is actually an overgrowth of weeds. The mosquitos are invisible in the shot. Inside the lens it only matters that there are purple flowers on the ground springing from the grass like hope and that is all I show you. Life is different, so easily distracted by the noise of everything you barely notice the purple flowers. I had driven that road every day but I didn’t see them until I went looking for magic.

That whole year I spent trapped in my own mind, fighting for a way out. Looking for a door.

I was the door.

IMG_1276.JPG

Will Stand Up.

About 15 months ago I saw a photo of me that shook me a bit. I’ve been all shapes and sizes but I had never looked at a photo of me and truly hated it. I had looked at photos and thought it was a rotten photo but I had never before looked at a photo of myself and thought, “I look bad.”

It probably isn’t a photo you would expect, in fact I posted it because after years of being a photographer I learnt that no matter how much you hate the way you look, your family does not. They don’t care. They don’t see what you see.

Your partner sees your smile in your eyes.
They remember the time you laughed so hard that for ages after one of you would just have to start giggling and it would set the other off. (Sassafras)
They remember the touch of your fingertips on their skin.
Whispered I love you’s.

Your kids don’t see your imperfections. They remember soothed brows when they were hot with fever.
The time you went out to dinner and wore the red dress that made them think you were the most beautiful woman in the world.
They remember school concerts where you clapped the loudest, bedtime stories and birthday cakes.

No one ever sees what you see. I know that. So as a photographer I posted the picture. But as a woman who is human and flawed and a tiny bit vain – I hated it. I felt ashamed of me. And I stopped taking pictures.

I still photographed my sleeping daughter curled into me like a comma but I cut my face from the frame. I shot the book I was reading, the trees near me, my children, the surf, my partner…but not me. Sometimes parts of me made cameos, my feet in the sand, my hand holding a cup of tea, a shoulder, a wisp of hair. But I avoided the camera as much as I could because it was a mirror I was not ready to look into.

I do not write this to garner compliments. I didn’t need reassurance of my value. I didn’t feel worthless. I was still a good person, I was still kind, I was still funny (sometimes) and I was still clever. I was good at my job and I was a mother who was doing her very best and every day woke up trying to do better. I was a good person. I did not feel worthless simply because I did not feel attractive. I read articles frequently that advised that we need to love the body we are in and I felt that that was bullshit. Was it not possible that I could NOT love the body I was in and still be okay? Couldn’t I just look at myself with a critical and unbiased eye and find it lacking but still accept that I was a perfectly good person? So what if I was not pretty or beautiful or sexy? I’m still a worthy human being.

Here is what I know. I may never weigh more than I do right now. I find it so difficult to gain weight. My thighs – no matter how skinny – will always have a few rogue dimples of cellulite. My hips will always bear the stretch marks that crawled across them when I was pregnant with my first daughter. My stomach will never be entirely flat, that loose skin grew too many children and stretched like an old hair tie. It’s not coming back. My breasts will probably never fill out more than a B cup again. My hair will always be unruly and when brushed it will always go frizzy. My eyes are going to have smile lines, I can’t help it – I laugh too much.

BUT…this body? It grew children. It fed them. It carried babies that live in my home and ones that live only in my heart. It has kissed and loved and survived. It has hatched chickens and cooked meals and kneaded dough. It has delivered baby animals and picked flowers and planted herbs. It has walked beaches and forests. It has spun yarn and sewn clothes and worked stitches. It’s bled and cried and laughed and healed. It’s pressed the shutter of a camera thousands of times. It’s read and written. It has made magic.

It is not perfect. It is flawed beyond comprehension, really. It’s what I have. It works. Granted, sometimes it works like the vacuum you have held together with duct tape, but it works. Every morning when I stand in front of the mirror and I stare into my own eyes and tell myself, “You can do this. You’ve got this”, it rallies. I push it. I ask more from it than it deserves. And it rallies. It stands up.

I’m ready now. I am ready to look into that mirror and see what stares back at me. I will not look away. Not because I’m expecting beauty. But because I am expecting strength.

It’s time.

“Can stand up, will stand up…every one of us. Make your choice. Are you ready to be strong?” – BTVS “Chosen”.

IMG_0541

The Recap.

How my week went : A Recap.

Me: I’m a shit human being.
Therapist: You have too much compassion. You should use some for yourself. Do something you enjoy.
Me: But I’m a shit human being who doesn’t deserve to do things I enjoy.
Therapist: Our time is up.

Me: Writes list of ten things to do this week. Sets about to complete all ten things in 24 hours. Completes little. Panics on Friday that hasn’t completed ten things.

Me: Edits baby photos while rewatching Prison Break. Begins to emulate Michael Scofield’s complete lack of tone in voice. Says everything in monotone husky whispers. Drives children mad with disinterested voice. Wonders what Wentworth Miller’s friends call him since his name is a mouthful. Takes question to Facebook. Discovers they call him Wenty. Feels satisfied.

Me: Says can help friend test presets using photos. Realised every photo I’ve ever taken is shit. Panics and sends partner on wild goose chase for newspaper, lollipops and balloons. Takes photos. Panics they’re shit. Sends them anyway.

img_8573

Me: Buys lingerie for midweek getaway. Ignores lingerie and wears beige cotton underwear.

Me: Takes children to work. Picks children up from work. Repeat 50000 times.

Me: Forgets to put petrol in car. Partner borrows car and is forced to put petrol in x3.

Me: Tackles rogue bikini line left neglected for two months. Despite having birthed six children without pain relief wishes for epidural during bikini wax. Swears a lot.

Me: Meets up with friend from Melbourne for flying visit so I can coo over her pregnant belly. Sees pirate ship. Finds book in second hand book store explaining hangovers. Feels like I’m reading an excerpt from my brother’s escapades. Reminds me of the time my brother installed security cameras for outside fridge as he suspected neighbour was drinking his beer. Turned out he was drinking his beer.

Me: Cries hysterically because Google Drive won’t upload images. Tells daughter I’m too tired for sleep to fix. Requires mini coma.

Me: Friday afternoon. Drinks.

That time my daughter needed an exorcism.

Do we even like being parents anymore? I’m joking, obviously but I go through memes and photos and posts every day taking about a) how hard this gig is and b) how we all need to self medicate to survive parenthood.

And the funny part is, almost all the things complained about are the parts of parenting I secretly don’t mind so much. Like the fact my five year old will come and ask me something and use a word that isn’t correct or say a sentence that doesn’t make sense, and when I say I don’t understand she will repeat the EXACT SAME WORD just slower or louder like she is speaking to someone of incredibly low intelligence.
“What day is tomorrow?”
“Friday.”
“No. What DAY is tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. The day after today. WHAT DAY is it?”
“Dude. It’s Friday. I don’t know what answer you want.”
“The day after today.”
“Tomorrow?”
“Yes. What DAY is that?”
“Tomorrow is Friday.”
“No. WHAT…DAY…IS…IT?”
“….you need to go play.”

It’s infuriating. It makes me want to stab myself to death with a spoon. But it’s absolutely hilarious and that’s what I love about parenting.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been on this whirly-gig for almost two decades now. But all those things that drive you insane today? Funny as shit in 5-10 years time. Trust me. One day your house will be clean, your car won’t have smashed milk arrowroot on the carpet, your kids will hold conversations that actually make sense and you will MISS this insanity.

image

Let me tell you a story. It’s one of my favourites. To set the scene my eldest daughter is 7 years old. You wouldn’t know it to look at her now but she had this incredible temper when she was little. In fact, most people unless they experienced one of her infrequent but volatile rages wouldn’t have believed me then. This particular day it is summer and I am getting the kids to school. My Nanna took us because I didn’t drive back then and I was about 25 weeks pregnant with my first son and fourth child. Nanna was waiting in the car with E who was 3 and going to go swimming with her auntie that day. I am walking a 7 year old J and 6 year old B into their catholic school. Everything is fine.

I think I need to stop here and explain that I carry large with boys. Like, I’m big. With girls I have a teeny compact rockmelon under my dress, with boys…let’s just say that I was once stopped at 15 weeks pregnant with R and asked how much longer I had. (I may have growled at them).

Anyway, I’m waddling along and I mention to B that it is water play at her class today. She had swimmers and a towel and her class was going to play with sprinklers and buckets of water and have a grand old time. J says, “Why does she get water play and I don’t?”
I explain that her class is having a water play day, I don’t know, I don’t make the rules. She immediately launched into how unfair this was. B getting water play and E getting to go swimming.
“I can take you swimming at Nanna’s after school,” I say.
Not good enough. J is saying that is also unfair because then her sisters have done two water things and she has only done one. Her friends wave hello. She glares at them. She is beginning to melt down. She starts screaming she doesn’t want to go to school.
“I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL! I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

image

I kiss B goodbye and push her towards her classroom and away from her sisters wrath. People are staring. The bell rings and it’s assembly day so kids begin to move towards the hall. Throngs of children and me clutching my demon child’s hand while she struggles to free herself all the while screaming at the top of her lungs, “I DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

At the doorway to the hall the Principal comes up to us and tries to talk J into coming inside and – I shit you not – she HISSES at him. Then screams in his face those same words. He retreats. I don’t blame him.

At this point basically every head in the school is turned towards my daughter wailing. People whisper to B who is sitting placidly with her class. Privately she looks pleased because she will forever be known as the ‘good sister’ and also because she will have mad street cred for living with such a crazy person and surviving.

I realise I cannot take her in. This temper tantrum will run it’s own course but she absolutely cannot go to school today. So I turn to J and I say, “Okay. We are going home.”

But I do it in that mum way. You know the way. Like, your voice is totally calm but the kid knows shit just got real. And J looks at me and knows this so she starts screaming, “No! I WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!”

She’s hysterical. I half drag her towards the exit. She’s screaming the whole way, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL! LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

But I can’t back down because I made a call and kids smell weakness.

She is digging her heels in and I’m so big and pregnant, you guys. But it becomes clear the only way I’m getting her back to the car is if I carry her. So I heft up this 7 year old on my belly while she is kicking and screaming and yelling, “LET ME GO TO SCHOOL!”

I am headed towards this little path behind the church and there are colourful flower beds. I see the parish priest walking a visitor around them, both marvelling at the roses while I am heading towards them with a kid that looks like she needs an exorcism. Just before we get to the priest and companion, J does this wild whole body buck that because of my centre of gravity being off due to massive belly sends both of us sprawling on the concrete, my shoe breaks, my skirt rides up and I skin a knee. I burst into tears.

Here we are. Both of us crying, me bleeding, one shoe and the priest looking on in horror. J sniffles and looks at me and says, “Please mummy. I don’t want to hurt you…..but I will.”

The priest recoils and retreats to the safety of his rose bushes.

Five minutes later I am hobbling back to the car, broken shoe in hand, both J and I crying and Nanna jumps out and says, “What happened?!”

Where to begin?

image

Now, as far as shitty parenting days go, that was right up there. It was so far up there. It’s one of my top 5 Shitty Parenting Moments.

But now we laugh about it. So I guess it’s also one of my top 5 Most Hilarious Parenting Moments.

What I’m trying to say is the real shitty stuff is the stuff you will never laugh about. Sickness, broken hearts, those heart stopping moments when you think ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’. You’ve probably all had one of those. The day to day with kids is hard work, I’m not devaluing that, but it’s fleeting, man. It really is. But it’s so fucking good as well. The hard stuff is part of the tapestry of your parenting journey. It just wouldn’t be the same without it.

So, yes. Drink your wine, eat the chocolate, sneak the good ice cream. But try to think, “Will I laugh about this one day?” “Will I miss this when she is walking out the door on a date at 18?” For me the answer is almost always, yes.

image

The Hardest Thing about Parenthood.

I’ll tell you the hardest thing about being a parent. Or actually, what for me has been the hardest thing about being a mother. The invisibility.

There are dozens of ‘hard things’ and the hard stuff happens immediately. It begins right there when you see those two pink lines on the little white wand you just peed on and realise that you can say goodbye to soft cheese for the next 8 months (I know friends, it was a struggle for me too). You feel tired, emotional, your skin stretches and warps over your abdomen and you watch as stretch marks bloom across you. I remember one night going to sleep with perfect breasts and I woke the next morning to step in the shower and caught sight of my chest in the mirror and thought I had those strange marks from sleeping all over my breasts until I realised they were stretch marks that literally appeared overnight like magic. Across my thighs they were deep, painful looking scarlet scars as though I had been whipped. I looked down once when I could still see my calves and was fascinated by the fact I had a lone red tendril of stretch mark on my calf, far from my stomach that was the cause of all this. And that’s before we hit hyperemesis, SPD that literally crippled me (although I was fortunate enough to suffer no major lasting effects), gestational diabetes.

Then labour. The pain that comes with opening a portal to life, the panting, the pushing, the sweat, the blood.

Swollen breasts filled with milk. Cracked nipples. Post partum bleeding. Sleepless nights. The perfume of baby powder and newborn and underneath it all the faint sour smell of baby vomit on your shirt you didn’t notice until you were in the shops grabbing bread because – goddamn it, do we ALWAYS need bread in this house? Where does it go?

image

The teething, the worry of SIDS, the baby check ups and doctors appointments, the growth charts and milestones: check, check, check…

Baby proofing and blending of foods and patience until you think you might explode from buried frustration. Endless on loop soundtracks of the Wiggles, or Thomas, or Strawberry Shortcake and barbie shoes that never seem to exist after the first five minutes of leaving their box.

Clothes and washing and which school is right? Are they happy? Are other kids mean? Is MY kid mean? Homework and more doctors visits and fever in the night that leaves you sleeping on the floor by the bed sponging a scalding forehead with a tepid cloth and praying the panadol kicks in soon.

Head lice and parent/teacher interviews and costumes and parties. Christmas presents and birthdays and school discos and is my child happy? Is he happy? And oh, my heart is breaking. And vomit buckets being emptied.

Football games and netball games and swimming lessons.

A thousand sandwiches.

Which high school? Should I let her wear make up? Is she too young? And teens with boyfriends and parties and leaving you and leaving you and leaving you. And you have to balance your protection with your need to see if she can fly. Will you fly? And heartbreaks and colds and doctors visits and the orthodontist and talent quests where she sang like an angel.

Bearing witness. Day in day out. Endless. A hundred things. A thousand memories and you are their keeper.

The hardest thing is the invisibility. Of knowing there is not a single time they will remember all of those thankless things you did because you loved them until they are the keeper of memories for their own children.

But writing them out just now, they didn’t feel like that much of a hardship after all.

Blocked.

image

I don’t know if other writers do this but every time I post a blog post I have this paralysing fear I will never be able to write anything ever again. It’s a crushing pressure. What if that’s it? What if no words ever come to me again? What if this time next week I’m sitting here staring at the blank screen forced to make the blogging version of small talk and ask how the weather is at your place?

I have the same fear every time I’m about to do a shoot. For a few seconds just after a client has arrived and just before I lift the viewfinder to my eye? Every pose I have ever done immediately leaves my head and for just those interminable seconds I’m sure I’m going to stand there dumb before them while they exchange awkward glances and I have to confess I have no idea what I’m doing. “Terribly sorry, guys. I’m a fake. I actually have no idea what I’m doing here. Best we all go home, hey? Haha.” Then the camera is up at my face and I slip back into my role and can direct. But for a few seconds there…my god. Terrifying.

It use to bother me so much, the performance paralysis, that I would do bad sketches and little notes to myself prior to a shoot so I could refer to it if I freaked out. I suppose it was a kind of cheat sheet and eventually I finessed it so I would plan the shoot on the iPad with a collection of images from previous shoots and called it a “Look Book” (industry term) which sounds infinitely better than, “Collection of cheats in case I get Shoot Amnesia.” I suppose it’s the photographer version of stage fright.

Anyway, I have this same fear every time I sit to write something even though I tell myself encouraging words like, “Writing is like building muscles, you have to use them or you lose them. This is like running laps.” And, “It doesn’t matter if it sucks. It’s the act that is important. Not whether you win or lose but how you play the game.” Yadda yadda. I wonder if painters get paralysis when they stare at a blank canvas? If potters ever fear the clay? If all writer’s sometimes stare at a blank sheet of paper and it looks like more of a threat than an invitation?

In other news…I have writer’s block.

Today.

image

Today I did the four hour round trip to drop my kids off to their dad and his partner. (Don’t stress, this photo isn’t for them who I am fond of). On the way back I was alone for the first time in a long time. Like, completely alone. I sang loudly to Christina Anu about stepping out in my deadly red shoes. I drank soft drinks. I nibbled at a donut. I made weird popping noises with my mouth because when you’re driving along at 100ks for two hours and there is nothing but fields and cows for company you get kind of bored and start doing weird shit. I talked to myself. I paid attention to tiny details and wished there was somewhere I could safely stop to photograph the echidna that emerged from the grass to snuffle at the dirt, a falling down fence, a large tree stump that I would have liked to sit on, the way the light dappled across the mountain to my right which was just the shadows of the clouds but knowing that couldn’t strip it’s magic.

I take the scenic route when I drive out there, I like to look at the trees that emerge from the water in this one spot. I like the way the grass is so green and reaches out to the water like fingers. I like the bridge that only one car can travel at once so you have to stop and wait. I like the cows grazing by the water’s edge. I like the strange pyramid house. I took my camera and drove slowly along it on my way home and pulled over so other cars could move past me.

And then I was alone.

I was standing by the side of the road and it the silence was so loud that when a bee went past me it’s hum reverberated in my ear so intensely I wondered if I had ever really heard a bee’s hum before. I stood by the side of the road and watched the water below – you can’t walk down because it’s private property – but I wished I was down there lying on that marshy grass, I wished I was part of that scene so still and yet impermanent. And I thought, fuck you. Fuck you to my anxiety that told me I would never get out of that house. Fuck you to the inner voice that says I’m not good enough or pretty enough or clever enough or strong enough. Fuck you to the shadow that stalks me and whispers fears into my ears. Fuck you, because I am here and it is beautiful and I am enough.

You will never be able to leave the house.

Fuck you.

You will never be well.

Fuck you.

You aren’t good enough.

Fuck you. I am still here.

ps. It’s really hard to give the finger to yourself.

The Artist.

During this lull in my life where I struggle with both direction and simple things like, you know, getting out the door I have been taking on editing work for other photographers. I love this because it’s a way to keep my hand in the business while not having to deal with the outside world. The photos arrive to me and I quietly spend the days colour correcting, straightening, removing blemishes, adjusting contrast. It’s meditative work. It allows my mind to wander while my eyes do their job. I also discovered I feel better at the end of the day because I can flick through the images and see I have completed a task.

And I learned something about myself. I was a good photographer. I was good. I was an artist. But I was never a businesswoman. The business side of things confounded me. I didn’t know how to sell myself because every image I took I poured a little of myself into and I didn’t know how to say to people, “You’re paying me because I am worth this.” It went against my nature.

I never told people this but the day I gave up weddings was because a client came back to me and said she wasn’t happy. I had had a couple of portrait clients do that before and I would always offer a reshoot. We would do it again and piece together a gallery from both sessions. But it was never my fault before, it was always something like the baby was fussy that day and the mum really wanted smiling images. Or I suggested an outdoor shoot and mum wanted studio and then changed her mind after the session. And the beauty of portraits was we COULD redo. Weddings are kind of a one shot deal. This wedding – it was fine. During family formals – in the midday sun on a beach, no less – the bride was getting anxious for them to be over. She was frustrated because her aunt was insisting on different groupings that the bride and groom hadn’t put on the list and she turned to me and said, “Just shoot them, it doesn’t matter. I just want her to shut up. I don’t really care.” I mentioned moving to a different location where the sun was less offensive, I was patient. In the end the shots were taken, occasionally not every person was looking at the camera. A child might be looking at his mother for example. To me – these were not flaws. This was life. I shot some beautiful images of the bridal party. Halfway through reception they asked me to stay an extra two hours and said they would pay me extra. I was exhausted by this point, but agreed and said not to worry about additional payment.

I delivered the gallery and the bride picked her shots and seemed pleased. A couple of weeks later the mother of the bride sent me a message with an attached image of a random wedding shot by her relative and said, “This is how you take real wedding photos.” The image received was standard amateur work. It was not technically correct and it was very average. I spent a long time looking at that image wondering what she was talking about. And then I realised she was meaning it as a stab at me. “See this guy who is my relative – he is so much better than you. You’re a fraud.”

I wrote her a response outlining that I was an accredited photographer with a well respected association in Australia, the closest thing we had to a governing body. That my work had been assessed by them as of a professional standard. That I did a perfectly acceptable professional job on her daughters images. Okay, maybe at the end I may have thrown in, “I wonder if he has been similarly assessed?” Whatever. I was salty.

The bride told me after she received the images she was pretty disappointed that she thought during family formals I would yell out “one, two, three, smile!” So they would know I was taking the picture. Because apparently me standing in front of them with a camera shouting, “Eyes over here!” And clicking furiously wasn’t a good indication.

Oh man. I KNEW I did nothing wrong that day. I knew the photos were good. But it devastated me. I just didn’t have enough confidence in myself to deal with that. I shot about three weddings after that one, the tail end of my booked sessions. (You best believe I shouted ‘one, two, three, smile!’ just in case though). And then I just packed up that part of my work. Nope. No more.

It was the artist in me that threw in the towel. Because this wasn’t just a job. This was myself. When they said, “I don’t like this”, it felt like someone saying, “I don’t like you.” If I had been a better business woman I probably would have rolled with it, picked up, moved on. Kicked ass. But I didn’t because the artist doesn’t know how. The artist creates because they must. It’s a drive, a force, a muse. I don’t create to make money, I never did.

I was a bad businesswoman. But I was a damn good photographer. I know that now.

image

Awkward and Precious.

image

I made a conscious effort lately to pull out the camera and take photos of life. Not posed images but the images where the Doritos are still in a packet on the kitchen table and the kids faces are illuminated by their phones. The images where we are in the car or there is a smudge of dirt on a five year olds cheek. The ones where I set the timer and hop back into place and find out later the focus totally missed the mark and the table I leaned it on is in focus and we are but a kaleidoscope of colours. We could be anyone.

Wrinkles. Blemishes. Hair messed up. Sweatpants.

Life.

I’ve fallen in love with these images. Their imperfections and the impermanent of it. Just a second in time, gone. I feel like a journalist, like a historian. Every time I press the shutter I think – this will mean something some day. These will be the images that hold my attention. There is no bullshit here, no trappings.

image

When I use to shoot, clients would often say, “We like unposed photos.” And I would have to explain to them that EVERY image in my portfolio was posed. Every single one. The ones that looked candid were really just disguised poses.

“Hold on to Daddy’s leg so he doesn’t run away.”

“Can you kiss Mummy on the cheek?”

“Pretend you like each other.”

Laughter.

Click. Click. Click.

A friend once sent me a text from nowhere last year when I was in the depths of depression and asked how I was. We hadn’t talked in over 12 months but she use to be one of my best friends and had been my confidante for years. Then life got in the way and we drifted apart and I felt like a shitty friend and the more time that went by the more I felt embarrassed about reconnecting with her. I don’t know how she knew to reach out to me then. I cried when I got her message which was simply little more than, “I’m thinking of you.” I apologised for being a crappy friend and she told me there was nothing to be sorry for – which of course made me cry more. I lay my sorrows at her feet and told her I couldn’t stop crying, I cried all day for weeks at just about everything and she said to me, “Life is awkward and precious.”

I loved that so much I wrote it down and went back to it every now and then. Because it is awkward. The mess, the reality, the indignities. The laughs where you snort during them. The tears that smear your eye makeup. The sweat. The blood. The sex. The love.

And, my god. It is precious.