To See and to Hold

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It’s as simple as this: I started photographing because I wanted to. My life at the time was perfectly fulfilling and overwhelmingly busy. If you have kids, and by then I already had three, you know that the so-called problem of spare time sounds ridiculous to a mother. Another thing is that after the third child your perception changes, the rookie you used to be becomes a vet, who can hardly be baffled by anything. I planned on a fourth and maybe a fifth kid (these dreams have come true since). I am saying all this to emphasize my point, namely, that photographing didn’t fill any hypothetical void in my life. Exactly on the contrary, it came from fullness, from the energy and joy of life I was bursting with. I did it because it was fun.

 

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To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect my photos to be liked as photos, if you see what I mean – as pieces of photographic art. Honestly, I never thought of recognition when I started. I only wanted to enjoy capturing these fleeting moments: my kids growing, exploring, developing; all these precious little things, amusing or moving, always dear, never to be repeated. My love for my family brimmed over onto the whole world around. Everything looked priceless, begging to be caught on film. Mindless snapshooting didn’t seem worthy of this beauty, of the love that needed letting out. I started learning the craft, making first timid steps into the realm of technique. Still never thinking about making it my profession. Then my friends and family began saying things I had never expected. They looked at my pictures and, like, “Oh gosh, how did you do it?” They said the portraits I made were the best. They said the kids and the grownups in my photos looked really their true selves. They wanted me to photograph again and again. It made me feel more confused than confident, I found their enthusiasm much exaggerated. But they kept asking: how, how did you do it? I didn’t have any answer. I just up and did it, without much training yet, and I was sure it was something anyone else could do. That is what for a very long time stopped me from going pro. I felt sure that I only saw what everyone could see, and if my camera were put in anybody else’s hands, the result would have been the same. I kept learning the craft, honing my skills, though, for the same old reason: it was fun. Studying technicalities and learning to put them to good use, delving into the mysteries of postprocessing, getting a firmer grasp of composition and lighting, all that was rewarding in itself, not for appreciation by others. The appreciation only came as a welcome bonus, which I couldn’t help feeling was largely undeserved. Why indeed, get your own camera and you’ll do the same. Or will you? Then something happened. I already had five children by then, the eldest daughter living separately. What happened… not to get overdramatic, I won’t say “shattered my life” – because it didn’t – but just like this, out of the blue, everything changed overnight. From a well-provided matron, happy in her family life, surrounded by loving in-laws, I became a divorcee, whose husband is happy with another wife and a kid of their own. I became a woman who has to fend for herself and the two kids who stayed with me after my ex took two others into a new bright future. No, we didn’t have any marriage contract. Everything was based on trust, ironic as it may sound now. And no, I didn’t have any profession that could keep me afloat. I had been a pro mom for twenty years. Of course, there were a number of skills I either had or could pick up quickly to become a secretary or an office manager… but wait. Just as well, I could monetize any skill I had acquired in the course of my decades-long motherhood. Why not become a nanny, have a makeshift private kindergarten, babysit? No… for some reason it sounded like a step in the wrong direction. With two little (one of them very little) kids on hand and three more children on, so to speak, remote control, I’d rather keep spending my affection and experience on them, not someone else. Wait again. Why not finally respond to all the people who kept asking me “why don’t you become a professional photographer” with “see, I did!” Now I want you to understand that there was nothing desperate about this decision. It wasn’t the last straw I grabbed. There have always been other options. I still do it because I want to. I still do, and will always be doing it for fun. For the sheer pleasure of capturing these moments. For the joy of recognizing the inner beauty of people and landscapes and things, of looking and seeing. Oh yes, it does help me forget about the hurt, the betrayal, the constant quagmire of squabble over financial and other question concerning the support and the upbringing of my kids. But I do not do it for forgetting, nor for mere survival, nor for proving anything to anyone. I do it for the sake of itself. I do it because it is a great occupation.
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When a woman comes to me convinced that she is plain, and brings loads of photographic evidence to confirm this sad presumption, it is ever so gratifying to look at her, to see the charm that has previously gone unnoticed, and to draw it out. There’s no better reward than when she looks at her portrait I’ve made and says: “is this really me?... so gorgeous?...” Discovering beauty in people, magic in objects, fun in life, grace in nature compares to nothing on earth, and I am forever grateful that I have (at least people say so!) an ability to make all this known to others. True, a photographer is, initially, someone who can see, it’s the main prerequisite. But ultimately, a photographer is someone who can show. Allow others to become as aware as s/he is of the grace that permeates our hard and sometimes pitiless existence. Let them partake of this joy of life, the splendor of the world, the fun and magic and fullness that is ours if only we know how to see it. How to hold it.

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