The Art I Want To Make
in praise of slow, unhurried art
A week before I am scheduled to arrive in Chicago, I open up Voxer and send Kaitlin an audible confession: “I feel nervous about taking your pictures.”
She responds almost immediately, “I feel nervous, too.”
We name our fears, get them all out in the open. I am worried I won’t do a good job. She is worried she’ll be awkward in front of the camera. We speak of expectations, of insecurities, of how funny and strange and wild it is that after years and years of online friendship, THIS is how we’re going to spend our first day together in real life: me photographing her family.
She tells me to shoot as much of the day on film as I like. Are you sure? I ask. I tell her I’m still learning, I’m still making mistakes, I don’t feel super confident yet. She says, “yes, I’m sure.”
What she’s really saying is: I trust you.
We spend a whole day at home. Her home. A home in the beautiful town she grew up in, moved away from, and recently returned to. She drives me around while gesturing out her window, like one of those tour buses you see in Hollywood. Here’s the lake, here’s my grandparent’s house, here’s the library where I write. Everywhere I turn, more glimpses come into focus: this is her life, this is her story, this is part of who she is.
We pick up Noa from preschool, a darling building surrounded by wildflowers. Back at home we take a walk around the neighborhood, complete with a baby doll and tiny stroller and 57 stops to adjust both. We eat cheese and crackers and apple slices. We pick up big sister Sophie and have more snacks. I am a fly on the wall, but I am also a fly buzzing around the room: watching, noticing, witnessing. The tears. The light. The tiny toes on the window. Sister squabbles. Shrieks of laughter. Everything in between.
The day is quiet. Mundane. Dare I say: holy.
Kaitlin comes down with an armful of dresses: what should I wear?
I do not miss a beat. The red one.
Three cameras sit on the kitchen counter all day, two film and one digital. I reach for one, then put it down. Pick up another, then put it down. There is time to load film, time to switch lenses, time to chase light from room to room at a leisurely pace. I am not running around like a squirrel, click click click click clicking, trying to get as many shots as humanly possible. Instead, I feel totally in control of my own process. There is no sand timer running out. There are literal hours stretching all around us, time and potential and more time and more potential.
I am free to experiment. To get weird. To practice things I want to improve. To make a mistake—or, as we say in our family—a beautiful oops.
The whole day I can feel a pulse of creative energy thumping through my body, synced with my heartbeat. It’s that feeling when you’re doing exactly what you love to do, exactly the way you love to do it, and there’s freedom and delight and play and experimentation and the world is your oyster and every click of the shutter feels like fireworks popping off against your fingers. There’s a contentedness, a knowing, a vibrancy that you cannot force—all of it appears out of nowhere like an unexpected gift, a rainbow in the sky after a storm.
And all you can think is:
This is it.
This is it.
This is it.
This is the kind of art I want to make.
Slow and quiet.
The magic, the mundane.
This is it.
I attended a photography workshop in August where one of the instructors spent something like 20 minutes describing a song he loved. He raved and raved about this specific band, this one specific song, about how the lyrics spoke to his soul and made him feel things he had never felt before.
“That song changed me,” he said, “And now it’s become my artist statement. I want to create photographs that make me feel the way I felt when I heard that song for the first time.”
We sat in a small living room squished together on two couches. I typed out a few notes on my phone while someone next to me asked a follow-up question.
“How do you know when you’ve achieved that? How do you know when you’ve finally made that kind of art?”
He stared up at the ceiling for a split second, then offered a simple response: “When you see it, you know.”
He was right.
When I saw it, I knew.
Thank you, again, tofor trusting me with these images.
P.s. I write more about my photography journey (including picking up a film camera for the first time!) in my new book, Create Anyway. Grab it at Amazon, Target, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, or directly through Baker Book House. Thank you so much for supporting my writing. ❤️