Death isn’t the easiest concept to grasp, especially if you are young.
Sure, you understand that you’ll never see the person who died again, but you don’t understand why.
This is how I felt for years after my mother passed.
This is how I felt after my next two mother figures passed away—like I was floating in a sea of nothingness. They all told me that it would get better. The people that surrounded me tried to be uplifting and encouraging, I mean, that is what we are suppose to do, right? Help one another along?
Even though I appreciated this help, regaining my strength to stand on my own two feet, it did not fix the floating feeling. It did not fix the vortex I felt myself getting sucked into, or the tears that would come almost every night. I was floating along in life without any meaning…and when I look back, I realize that was a horrible way to live.
At the end of my junior year in high school, one of the teachers I was close to insisted that I help with a new project. She wanted to create a bulletin board for everything related to school sports, and she wanted someone who did not mind running around with a camera. So, she gave me the job. It would give me a purpose, a small one, but a purpose nevertheless. (Being in a place where I was bullied daily, I realized that anything helped.)
And that’s when things started to change.
Our little project took off. I was attending games and cheer meets. I was printing photos and posting them on the bulletin board; I was in charge of the sports announcements—this photography thing was a way to break me out of the hollow little shell that I had been in, for nearly a decade.
I was told that art heals. I do not remember the day I was told that, I cannot remember who said it, but I remember it. I remember it, because it is true. Photography became more than just a hobby, it became more than just a passion, it became a lifeline—something that would save me whenever I needed to distract myself the most.
I wanted to know more so I set out to learn. I branched out from sport photography to nature photography, selling a couple prints along the way. I spent a summer running around the mountains of Pennsylvania trying to capture the perfect sunset, and most importantly, I started making like-minded friends through various art sites. By the end of my freshman year of college I had decided that I wanted to focus on people. I was ready.
Photographing people is much different from photographing a plant. For one, people talk to you. People want to interact; they need to connect with the person who is trying to capture their soul. Those interactions aren’t always about needing to share the deepest secrets, but just knowing a piece of their story, is a gateway to capturing who a person really is through a lens. A lot of artistic pieces are about being vulnerable, and the human connection is a vulnerable thing. To be real with someone, even in the smallest way, can be completely terrifying.
I had withheld from exploring this side of the art, because I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be seen by another person. I didn’t know if I wanted to know anyone’s story because I wasn’t sure if I could deal with my own. But photography was therapeutic in that way. It taught me that being scared to talk to someone—a stranger even—is often times silly. Everyone has a story. Some of those stories are good, some of those stories make you want to be a better person, some of those stories inspire one to want to travel the world, and some of those stories are tragic. But every single one of those stories is unique—just as every person who steps in front of my lens.
Photography gave me that gateway into finding myself, and it helped me reconnect with the world, with the people around me—it became far more than just a hobby. It became a way to heal, an ongoing project of almost six years now.
I’ve learned a lot about the people I’ve gotten to work with and a lot about myself. We are all on this planet together, living through the same basic cycle, to live and to die. But, how we chose to live is what I find most important. We can let these empty shells of nothingness consume us to the point that we’re just floating along, living our life on autopilot, or we can take action.
So, that thing you’ve been scared of trying? That hobby that you’ve been ignoring because you were told “it wasn’t important”? Take a few minutes out of your day to rediscover it, rediscover what you love.
Author: Josefina Hunter
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Courtney Carmody