Sunday, January 1, 2012

Once upon a time...

there was a girl trapped in a woman.  That woman wore a uniform and often traveled in service to her country.  Often in her travels, she loved to take pictures of the people, because she wanted to remember them.  She wanted to value their lives and experiences without passing any sort of judgement.  If they were suffering, perhaps she could help, show compassion and give a smile of kindness.  One day, she was presented a choice.  Kill her heart, her moral compass and in exchange she would be rewarded with position, security, and social standing.  If she chose to care, well, it would be an unpopular choice, because as we all have been told, these people somehow had to deserve their circumstances. 
2006 - Trinidad
I chose not to believe this belief and I retained what is not visible to the human eye.  I can't pinpoint an exact moment, for it was a series of moments, lessons, and thousands upon thousands of people with thousands of miles, assorted pairs of shoes, and many handshakes along the way as an ordinary woman who simply just said, "why not?"  I have been called naive.  I have been told, 'that's impossible."  I have even had to argue with myself, telling myself, "this really is worth it."  What was in it for me?  Books?  Projects?  Well, the desire to share these stories is overwhelming.  The perspectives, so different at times from my own.  The friendships, those dear friendships are absolutely heart felt, even though I will never see a majority of these people again in this life time.  But why do it?  Why did I feel so driven by this insatiable desire to wander down roads that so many people are afraid to travel?

There was a place called the "Garden of Eden" in a little village that seemed so isolated, surrounded by the jungle.  An eden, of sorts, where the owner permitted me to shoot these Buddhist images.  A garden of eden, where the tiki torches were the light sources at night, the fragrance of the jungle permeated the night.  Here, the wealthy came to be served by the common people, and the surroundings were just for show to many.  It was in that moment, perhaps, I felt like I was just able to observe without attachment, as though I was able to see without a role in mind and just see.  It was a peaceful feeling.  I was also sensing that I was about ready to go through a major transition.  I couldn't have asked for a more exciting life at that point, one that would have me gaze into eyes of tortured souls around the world.
I was one of those souls, because I knew the desire of most people is simply and truly to have at least one person who truly knows the 'real' person with complete acceptance.  The convenience of a stranger, for many, is possibly the most treasured voice to unburden their troubles, share their unspeakable truths or perspectives. At first, that is what I thought.  In essence, it is that we forget that humanity is our responsibility.  Not to control, but to help.
I had been shown things, I had never knew existed.  This tree, that bore fruit that looked like an oblong apple, but tasted like a pear.  However, if one has never eaten a pear, the taste is indescribable to them.  It seemed to me, in that simple moment, I looked at the fruit and realized that a child in this impoverished and exploited country, knew more about their nation than I did.  I did not care what briefings I read, I knew nothing about these people.  I knew nothing about what really mattered.
With the 801 Girls in Key West, FL 2007
There are certain advantages with being a woman.  This proved true when I was sent down to Key West, Florida.  During that time, male personnel were not brave enough to go into these clubs, and I really had no fear of people who were different from me, so that gave me a measure of freedom that enabled me to explore.  I didn't have to be these 'ladies', I just accepted them as they were.  There was no way I could be them.  However, there was just something about them I just honestly loved.  I shot hundreds of pictures that night, was generous and though people may have assumed whatever they may, I honestly just enjoyed their portrayals of other celebrities.  This is what they chose to do with their lives and boldly and bravely without having to be accepted by society, they chose to be exactly who they were (sort of), albeit through the mask of a publicly accepted persona.  I loved who they were and it honestly didn't matter that I didn't fit into their world.  At that time, they couldn't fit into mine.
The Two Windmills, Paris in 2008
On 21 December 2007, I wore my uniform for the last time.  I was allergic to what I saw coming.  I was allergic to what I felt we had become, but somehow the words stopped up in my throat.  I was lost.  I was questioning myself.  I was trying to sort it all out, so I did what so many do.  No really, so few do and yet it seems like a cliche moment.  I went to Paris.  However, this place was a huge exploration of humanity, liberty, literature, wine and the experience of living.  There were days seized.  There were 'white nights'.  There was jazz.  There were broken hearts and downcast lives.  There were the excesses and there were those deeply wounded.  My goal was to try to see every district meet as many wandering souls as possible.  I saw the Paris few look at and observed the beauty of beautifully timed moments that weren't artificially created.  I saw young lovers wooing each other.  The dance of man and woman, and even the dance of love for so many others.
The Apartment Windows of Jim Haynes, Paris, 2008
One person who had a great impression upon me, as he has had on so many others, was Jim Haynes.  For those who do not know about him, much has been written.  He was an honest discovery for me.  Totally unknown to me.  Totally without premeditation.  The kind of meeting that Jim wanted from the start, by word of mouth at Le Select.  Perhaps, random chance or perhaps a fated meeting.  The lesson from Jim Haynes was priceless.  Always be interested in people.  They all have a story they are dying to share.  He did not consider it bravery to open up his home to random chance.  The world walked through his apartment filled with books and stories.  There were those who were eager to share their lives, break bread and drink wine.  His Sunday dinners were a staple of the expat community, the arts community, the literary community, the academic community...etc.  Each community tried to lay claim to him, but the twinkle in his eye simply just gave him away.  He was interested in people.  I visited a few times in 2008 and again in 2010.  
Me, China 2010
It's a new year.  I didn't mean to look back, but it happens.  I kind of wanted to remember how I got here.   How did I get to the right now moment?  How can I continue to go into the direction I really want to go?  Also, what was the real purpose of this journey in light of all of the generated hate, chaos, fear and insecurity going on right now in the world?

I have been to places where there was absolutely no ability for me to conform to my surroundings.  I had no choice.  I could do nothing but be myself.  After 20 years of conformity to a system of rules, orders, rituals...the safety of it all, I had to step out.  What was the reflection now?  What did I think I know?  How was I including and excluding people in my life?  When did the journey stop being about myself and when was it about others?  What did I learn?  What did I really want?  That last question really has been the hardest to answer.
For Peace and Goodwill Trinidad 2006
This picture has incredible significance for me.  These gentlemen allowed me to take their picture, when normally they shield themselves from being photographed by 'tourists'.  He asked me why I wanted to take his picture and I don't know what made me say this, but I simply said, "because I don't want to forget you or your land."  The others laughed and he looked up, "I will allow it."  The respect we give to each other, in this life, on our journey is the first fruits of peace.

It doesn't matter what crazy laws we pass in this world.  What I realized the most in that moment of my life is that if we honor each other, what can be said of you, except one thing, "That person loved people."  I didn't try to change a single person on my journey.

However, I was changed by my journey.