I’m not used to photographing strangers. I have tried a bit of street photography and I admire the people who do that well. I’ve found I’m too self conscious to be ‘caught’ openly documenting people around me. When I watched the documentary ‘Finding Vivian Maier’, I was fascinated by how she could document such incredible images so surreptitiously around Chicago, but her camera allowed for this as it was the kind you “shoot from the hip”, literally.
As I began to advertise this project to engage participants, I wasn’t sure how it might be received publicly; whether people would actually willingly engage with me to open up about topics society has so long regarded taboo: problems/issues/struggles with female anatomy: medical issues, physical challenges, and the often heartbreaking impact on our health mentally and/or emotionally. We don’t talk about what goes on “down there” or “inside there” or how it affects our lives and the lives of those who know us and love us. Would I actually engage ANYONE with courage enough to allow me “in” to document what they are experiencing?
The first day I placed an ad, a stranger forwarded to someone they knew who might be interested and that someone contacted me. Her name is Beth. I visited her home briefly last weekend and, over the course of two hours, she shared a story, one of her many stories.
Beth gave birth last year to a 7lb, 15 oz baby boy, full term: “Elliot”. Elliot was stillborn. Almost a year later, Beth and her husband, Jamie, are still not exactly sure why. She had been monitored through the pregnancy and the birth itself, during which, at some point, Elliot tragically passed away. I will be documenting Beth and Jamie as they approach the birth of their second child, a daughter this time, only a few months away now.
Before I share participant features, I felt the need to write a dedicated post, as I begin this intimate project, to the kindness of strangers. I cannot begin to describe how honoured I felt to have a stranger’s door open, her mouth open, her broken heart open, her secrets shared, her soul laid a bit bare as she spoke. There is not much more devastating and heart-wrenching a story to tell than describing the death of one’s child. I am humbled; not only by the enormity of Beth’s courage, generosity and willingness to talk to me, but to do so publicly and further allow me to document what she has gone through, and is going through still, as she opens up.
Beth agrees that life situations, like the deep sorrow she and her husband have been enduring are important to share and talk about: that it’s supportive (and healthy) for people to know there are others who understand exactly what certain others have gone through and that kind of recognition and connection with others can be a respite, however brief or miniscule. There is a release in the realization that, in the telling, we are not alone out there. There are others who can relate.
This post is a wee nod with my thanks, as I begin, to Beth and others who’ve reached out to me since I started soliciting for participants in this project. Your courage astounds and I look forward to sharing all the stories about how the womb has affected and continues to impact our lives and the lives of those closest to us.