I’ve been thinking about this post for 14 days. Trying to figure out how to explain to the rest of the world what my 6 days in the teeny tiny Texan town of Glen Rose was like. It feels surreal, being home, adjusting back to real life. Prior to signing up for this photojournalism workshop, I had done my due diligence, watched the video. Cried my way through it, in fact, fairly certain that for Foundation Workshop 13, I’d be the student assigned to document the workings at the Human Society. My love of animals ever present in my public life. I didn’t even entertain the idea that there would be an assignment for me out there, that would evoke emotion in me that would be stronger. Infinitely more powerful. Intense. Horrifying. Real. Complete melt down at 4 am, real. And incredibly healing.
Walking into the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express that first afternoon, being enthusiastically greeted with a huge hug by Kelly. I should have known then, that my week would be full of hugs. Human contact. People touching me. The introvert in me was shivering in my soul. And it’d only been a minute. It was seconds before the next set of arms were heading my way, that I instinctively backed up and stuck out my hand and was promptly told that hand shakes didn’t belong at the Foundation. I wish I could remember who it was that told me that. Because they were right. I’ve never, ever, been hugged by so many people in my life. And not just tap, tap on the back hugs. Real, sincerity filled, welcome to the family type of hugs. This was just the beginning of my boundaries that were pushed to their limits.
Photo credit: Dexter Lo
I never thought about my team, who would be on it, who would become my support network. The people who would hug me for minutes. Tell me that they loved me. That they were there for me. To support me. To help me heal my soul. To let people love me. To allow myself to love people. Strangers in the days before. People who would hear some of the horrific tales of my childhood. And not judge me. Not question the validity of how such terrible things can happen in real life. They just loved me. They listened. And then they hugged me some more. In a big giant circle of hugs. What would become the symbol of this week for me. Listening to my teammates’s stories, the stories of their lives, how we all became the people that we are. How life experiences shaped us into the people we’ve become. How those experiences were being communicated through our photography. For me, realizing that I wasn’t alone in the horror that I’ve experienced. That six completely different people could have specific threads between us that would allow us to resonate and connect with each other in a way that I’d never before imagined. As a group, we spent our time forming a life long bond. Sergio and Erwin were our leaders, Tara, Randy, and Derrick were my teammates. I never anticipated the strength that my team would give me. The healing they would provide. And most importantly their belief in me. They taught me to believe in myself. To trust myself. To listen to myself. To love myself. And to let love into my life. It was truly an incredible gift.
And for the record, this is what 3 am looked like on the last day of our journey. Sergio was the only one smart enough to wear sunglasses.
My assignment was to document a weekend in the life of a big Mormon Family, with 6 kids and another on the way. There wasn’t any preparation that I could have done to anticipate what this experience was going to be like for me. For the emotion that I was going to have to face throughout this assignment. Separation. Separation between my personal life and the lives of this amazing family. Witnessing familial love in a way I never really thought was real. I knew that there wasn’t a more perfect assignment for me. I didn’t know how I was going to survive, but I also knew that there wasn’t any other way that I was going to be able to overcome some of the biggest obstacles I’ve ever had to face as a human and as a photographer. I was terrified. Terrified that my ‘family’ wasn’t going to accept me, that I wasn’t going to be able to complete this assignment. That I wouldn’t be able to contain the pain was seared into my soul. Paralyzed about how this would affect my photography. And in fact, the worst happened to my photography. I faced failure in a way that I’d never allowed myself to experience before. I hit rock bottom. I failed hard. I failed over and over again. I realized just how much I was hiding behind my camera. Numbing my own emotions. Allowing my own emotions to influence how I was seeing the world. But I learned from it. I learned how I was sabotaging my own work. I learned how to focus on these incredible people who had welcomed me into their lives so that I could learn how to tell their story. So that I could learn from them. I learned how to see the good in people. How to love people. And most importantly how to allow myself to be loved. I grew in a way that will forever change my photography.
Here are two of my favorite images from my assignment.
Maybe it was the 24 hours of sleep I had over the course of those 6 days. Maybe it was the dead hawk I saw on my way to my assignment (a reminder that my Ego Eagle wouldn’t be swooping in on me that day). Maybe it was the lack of coffee and substantial breakfast. Maybe it was just my soul healing. Maybe it was my new friends. Maybe it was me finally being able to set aside the fear of facing who I had become over the last 32 years. But the barrier was broken. The barrier that I had built for myself. Something happened with my photography. I barely recognize my work from these two days of my life. But the thing is, is that it’s mine. It’s dark, it’s inclusive, it’s real and raw. And it’s mine. I’ve seen so many images that make me feel emotion. But I never really thought that I had it in me to create these kinds of images. I figured that I just wasn’t the type of person who could ever see the world in that kind of un-jaded light. But I did. And it is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
Thank you to Dexter Lo for these photographs of Sergio helping me learn.
Thank you so much to Huy for giving me the best team. The best leaders. (Clearly I’m biased on that point!) For creating a workshop that is functional in all aspects of life. For having a vision and bringing it to life. For listening to all the students before me to help this workshop become the amazingness that it is. And for welcoming me into the incredible Foundation Workshop family.
Thank you to my team. To Sergio and Erwin for pushing my limits, respectfully, carefully and deliberately. For helping me see the world in a new light. In a new composition. Giving me the skills I need to be a successful photojournalist. Hugging me and believing in me when I needed it the most. To my teammates, you’re amazing. I love you all so much.
Thank you to the Barrus Family, for welcoming me into your home, for taking me to church, for little JJ holding my shaking hand as we walked in, for Mimi drawing me a camera with the word ‘LOVE’ written on the front, a simple reminder of what I needed to do. Reminding me to love people, to let people love me, and to include love in my life.
Thank you to everyone I met, everyone who accepted me for who I am. For everyone who wiped my tears and believed in me. Thank you to Verna for being there when I didn’t know I needed you to be. Cheers to my Foundation Family! I can’t wait to see how we all continue our photojournalism journeys!
And finally, a disclaimer. No two people will ever have the same Foundation Workshop experience. Your world will be rocked, you’ll fail, you’ll be picked up and you’ll leave with a new outlook on life. Each team has different personalities, different methods of bonding, different skills at teaching, being supportive and breaking down barriers. It’s grueling. It’s hard. At times, it’s incredibly emotional. But it’s worth it. Every single minute you’re there. Every single penny spent. It’s worth it. This workshop is truly a workshop where you learn, grow, and walk away with life long bonds.