This past week, I got to sit down and have a mentoring session with a photographer that I have greatly admired for several years now. We went through my photography – most specifically, all of the photographs I made about my grief after Drew died. It’s taken me years to get to the right space emotionally to be ready to have someone look at these photos with a critical eye and tell me what is working best and least in relation to showing them in galleries and having exhibitions. I’ve thought for years that I’ve just been avoiding it, but I’m now seeing that I just wasn’t ready to take these photos into such an often harshly critical atmosphere as the fine art gallery world.
Deep down though, I have never been able to ignore this pull from inside my gut that wants this work to be out in the world in a bigger way. The parts of me that went through all that trauma and pain and grief and sadness and anger and confusion and brokenness… which is captured in the images. I want this series and this experience to be seen by those who have the fortune of not yet experiencing such pain as well as those who have. I want it to be seen by anyone who has ever been broken by life, because I think seeing visuals about struggle and rebuilding can help all of us feel more connected and less alone.
This photo series is evidence of so much about grief. It is evidence to the ugliness and the fear and all the other less-than-pretty parts of grieving. It is proof of those first glimpses of being able to find hope, calm, and a way to live on after someone dies. And proof that the path is never linear. Most of all, for me, these photographs are a reminder that something beautiful can still be made out of all of that pain. In fact, something beautiful was made out of all that pain – something I could have never created without the pain. For me, this means that Drew has been right by my side all along, as I create. My hope is that it can comfort and inspire others in their own times of struggle.
So I’ve now sat down for this mentoring session and gotten some big feedback. Feedback which told me it’s time to dive into this and really get this work in front of galleries and museums and everywhere I can. It’s time to stop playing small and start swinging for the fences. It’s completely scary for sure. These photographs are so very personal. To have them rejected is something I will have to face the inevitability of as I look for the right places to exhibit them. No doubt this will be quite a push outside my comfort zone, but one that I do feel like Drew is guiding me towards.
So even though I’m a little scared, I’m going to do it anyway. Because I want to talk bigger about grief and death and struggle. I want to talk about how powerful creativity and storytelling can be as tools for validating our own stories and helping us to heal. I want to spark more conversations with more people about grief and death and how it can shape us in really positive ways too. I feel like it’s absurd that this aspect of life that connects us all has become such a quiet topic. If this is one way that I can get people talking and death and grief more openly, then I may as well give it a shot.