Disclaimer: this post speaks on my mental health as well as thoughts on suicide, if this topic isn’t easy for you, maybe skip this one.
I’ve been struggling for some time now wanting to say things, personal things about myself to my friends and even to some family members. Never knowing when is the right time or how it will be received. After wrestling with talking about it for months, I'm not sure there is a right time so, here it goes.
I'm 36 years old and for all of my life I've dealt with some slight forms of anxiety. That is until I reached my 30's. Then it slowly became more and more overwhelming, more and more toxic to my daily life and eventually I had a serious breakdown. I was driving to school after work one day and I had to pull over on the highway, tears flooding my mind racing. It had been the better part of a week and I couldn’t make it stop. At that point I had to for the first time talk to someone about me. I had never shared how I felt, just assumed it was a "normal" feeling and that everyone lived with it. I finally spoke with my wife and let her in. Crying on the phone, from the side of the highway. Even though we had been married for 7 years at that point I had never really let her in. For fear of her leaving, seriously. For fear of her not really listening or not believing me. Not because she’s a terrible person but because that is what society had taught me. That I was not normal and normal people would flee once they knew. Keeping this a secret is not what I had in mind and now I can see how keeping it a secret can cause a divide that can lead to people saying that they had no idea their significant had been struggling. It becomes easy to hide when you've been hiding it for as long as you've been you. They dont prepare you for it. They don't prepare you to fight yourself. There is no book, there is no manual or guide to defeat the very thing that controls you. I had become so use to wearing a mask, an outer layer of bull-shit that it began to fit like my favorite t-shirt. You can see that I am wearing a shirt, but no one can see what it's made up of. The blend of reality and an dark abyss. It's not a way to keep people out believe it or not but a way to keep them near. To not chase them away. Afraid if they see the real you they'll leave. Either out of fear or skepticism. Learning how to function, to be a functioning adult took me seeing a professional. That took me swallowing a lot of foolish pride (30 years worth) and saying "if I want to be able to control this, if I want to be able to carry on with my life I. Need. Help." I still can’t control it, it still over powers me. I still have moments where I get swallowed by the darkness. Therapy lead to A LOT of insightful things for me. Learning how to process the flood of thoughts and how to bring myself back. Focusing on what I can control at the moment. This taught me a good deal about my entire life, about me and my child hood as well as how and why I react to things the way that I do. In my early thirties I was diagnosed with GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) as well as depression. I believe there are bouts of mania as well, and from my own personal research it appears it can come along with the depression, but I am only a doctor when I have an internet connection. My support system of true friends and family have been nothing but amazing through-out! Listening when I speak about it and staying on top of me when I drop of the map. Encouraging me to be in the moment.
My struggle is my struggle but for those who love me it's theirs as well. I am truly thankful for them. Truly!
I say all that and bring you to this point to talk about photography. How I believe it has literally on a few occasions saved my life, literally. I don't mention that to scare or hurt anyone, but because it's true and I struggled with saying things like that out loud for a very, VERY long time. Wanting to keep those thoughts and feelings inside. Not sure it was okay to release that information to the outside world. Seeking help was seen as a weakness. So I carried them, with all the other things that life ask us to carry until it all became to much. Until it literally spilled out. After therapy on again, off again I turned to photography by chance just wanting a hobby or an outlet. To me it would keep me preoccupied and not allow me to be swallowed by the deep abyss of my thoughts. It was to be a task I had to complete. It put me in plain sight but hidden. It allowed me to slow down and to move without attracting attention oddly enough. On set or in public people focus usually on the camera, it's cast it's own spell on people. Them seem to forget there is a person with it. Getting to see the world the way I saw it. Without an interpretation from my thoughts. It gradually became a cathartic exercise to me. And over time has become my therapy (I don’t recommend not attending therapy). It has a way of taking me out of my world or out of my head even though it doesn't actually remove me from the real world. It brings a piece and a stillness that is most welcome when my brain seems to be feeding on itself. Photography is a shelter for me. A place to go when I am to much. When I am attacking me. I can use photography to get up, it can be the first step that leads me out of bed and through the day. Knowing that I need to take one image. Knowing that I drove passed something yesterday that would make a great (to me) image. It allows me to retrieve a piece of me that has been taken away by my own brain. When my mind is buzzing I can grab my camera and unconsciously all the chaos is quieted. This task turned into a process, turned into a passion. Now its who I am.
Recently I found out about an photographer named Tara Wray. She has a photo book called “Too Tired For Sunshine” it's a beautiful photo book. More importantly it is an almost spot on representation of how my brain sees and how I feel in moments. After digging around on the internet I found out that Ms. Wray started an Instagram community called the "Too Tired Project". I found some comfort in this book and the project. Knowing that the way I use photography was the way many others use it as well. It gave me the courage to write this, to write about me. It prompted me to feel like I wasn’t alone. Many other people sharing encouraged me to share, so if me sharing can encourage one person to share, or to seek a therapist because there is nothing wrong with it or one person to take medication because there is nothing wrong with it or to find a creative outlet or to stay alive then my struggles mean more than me just struggling.
Kodak Portra 400 shot at box speed on a Rolleiflex SLX w/80mm f2.8
I’ve had my eye on medium format film for a little over a year now. It was my first introduction to film photography itself. The whole process is pretty cumbersome, but in a cathartic way. There is a whole process to film and slowing down getting composition and exposure right, something that you do (or should be doing) in digital but the shots feel like they mean more, they hold a value. The camera’s are large(er) the film is large(er) and the resulting images are large(er) than say a 35mm. When I was studying photography in school (yes I am one of those guys) I was just enamored when we started looking at work from iconic photographers such as Daguerre, Niepce, Fox Talbot, Fredrick Scott Archer and Roger Fenton. Of course their process was different, but the impact those images had on me has not left me to this very day. First, the shear size of the images blew me away mostly 8x10 because the cameras were just large. Today most people think of images on a device a phone or a computer screen as that’s where most of our media is consumed now. I did too until this class. The depth, sharpness and the clarity of the images drove me crazy. Because they were impeccably detailed. I knew right there that was what I was after in my work. Looking at those images made me feel a certain way. Digital work is great (really, I believe that) and I am not saying one medium is better than the other, but to me film images have a depth and texture a sense of place that can not be replicated and I knew that’s what was missing from my work. I had the pleasure of being instructed by Frank Curry who is an amazing instructor and photographer and great debater. He provokes you, but in a way that makes you question why you didn’t think of it first. For our first assignment we were to shoot images in a medium we had not before to push us out of our comfort zone right off the bat. It worked. He had a Hasselblad 500 CM with a 90mm lens that caught my attention. This is where my yearning for something from my work turned into chasing it down.
Fast forward to a year later and wrapping up my degree I had the chance to grab a Rolleiflex SLX (not a Hasselblad but it fit my budget) from a professor and I couldn’t pass on it. The batteries were shot, after some research I found a guy on Ebay that devised a replacement for them. Soon after I purchased a roll of Kodak Portra 400 and went around my town learning how to compose images on this beast of a camera. It was like learning all over again. To me there is a cathartic experience in learning, even something that isn’t really important like shooting film in 2018, but I am hooked. The resulting images are okay, for me and my level of expectation when it comes to photography, but I am learning a new medium on a new camera with no light meter, so I was not to hard on my self you can be though!
Ilford HP5 400 shot at box speed on Rolleiflex SLX w/ 80mm f2.8
This last body of work that I took on was an entirely new medium to me. I’ve only ever shot digital photography, so film was something that I never thought that I would engage in. I picked up a Pentax K1000 off of Craigslist knowing that we were about to embark on a journey and I thought, what would be a better way to document this adventure than with film (I didn’t think that, I was terrified). Off the recommendation of a professor I purchased two rolls of Fujifilm Provia 100f, slide film. My family and I had been planning a move from Austin, Texas to Vancouver, Washington for almost a year, I was naive in thinking that I would have the time soak it all in. We traveled 5 days, more than 2300 miles across seven states towing everything we owned in a U-haul. Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Some parts of this country that I had never seen, my boys seeing it all for the first time. The trip went off with out a hitch (I was expecting the worst), as did my time with the Pentax and my first rolls of slide film. I used the meter within the camera (I was trusting the guy who sold it to me) and sometimes my own intuition, sadly I missed the exposure on some shots, but I am learning.
I had the film developed at Blue Moon Camera in Portland, a shop that I am sure I will become all to familiar with in my time in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve since dropped the Pentax off with Blue Moon for a full CLA and purchased two more rolls of film. This film thing was something I never thought that I would get into, but here I am head under water. I also have these memories on top of the memories of learning something new while traveling across the country.