I have been keeping journals ever since I was 13 years old, the same year I read my first book.
I started writing essays on the books I read and when I finally entered school at age 14 I discovered that what I did for fun was what they asked us to do for school work. “Cool!” I thought.
I didn’t understand the usefulness of my journals at the time, but like photos, they help me remember my history that I sometimes willfully forget.
I flip through the pages of the 50 plus journals filling the boxes in my closet. Filled to brim are my thoughts, rants, manifestos, poetry, art and mementos. I can’t compare the child I was as 13 to the child I am today but there is something delightful to read through my thoughts as a young adolescent without any crushes on boys in my pages but instead a list of names with strong meanings for future daughters. I wanted their names to mean “bold” “brave” “warrior” “strong” everything I was taught not to be.
If I flip through my journals from college that is when the idea of romantic love is introduced with my first crush on a girl. I speak of falling in love and describe my beloved ones in glowing terms until the end of the books where I discover that I am thoroughly disappointed that they are not the goddesses I imagined but humans. That script of unrealistic idealization of love ending always in angry disappointment repeats itself with men much later again post college like a tired script I already know the ending to. I don’t think I have yet updated that script so I return the books to their boxes and turn to my photographs. I have a love affair with photos on par with words.
As I organized my photos last night I thought to myself…I know we are supposed to be beautiful in our youth but I think I have gotten better looking with age. I can see in photos that I have gotten less insecure and in fact happier in my life despite the fact that we often romanticize the past .
In my childhood pictures I am always performing. In my teenage years I was angry and hiding my body behind clothes, pulling my hair back and trying to be as unattractive as possible. In college, I ridiculously pose for every picture and struggle against losing myself in my strange concept of love.
In Morocco all my photos are of everyone else until after the arrival of my daughter when there is hardly any photos of anyone but her. I could barely find a photo of myself. I have only photos of her and her father which makes me smile. For me, it’s love to take someone’s photo. The fact that I couldn’t find myself there made me happy that I was erased by something more relevant.
When there was the occasional photo of me I seem beyond happiness to be with my child despite seeing in some other pictures myself visibly struggling to make peace with what was happening after the camera snapped the photo which was an intense fight to find money and find emotional strength to handle the violent domestic situation I was trying to hide from friends and family.
The last photos with her father, myself and her in our home was on her first birthday. I knew those photos would be the last of us together as a couple so I waited the extra few weeks before my great escape. I wanted to stay until after her birthday to show her those happy photos in my one last make-believe moment of unity.
The photos of me and her father disappear, there are just photos of my daughter getting older and more beautiful until about last year. Without warning I find an explosion of photos of me. Me at home, me sleeping, me laughing, me talking, I am not posing, I am not stressed, I am expressing joy and living life and being my daughters mom and someone’s love and a crazy artist.
I am surprised to find all these photos and it takes me a moment to understand why or how there are so many photos of me in off guard moments. They are sometimes blurry and sometimes too clear and exposed to post anywhere. They came from phone cameras and computer cameras taken by me for another and from another of me. I am amazed at the photos candor and their dynamic range of the portrait of my life. There are photos of everything, every part of me in their crude way.
It hits me that for the first time someone who loved me went out of their way to document me in the same way I document others. I realized that he seamlessly coached me out from behind the camera to be natural in front of it. There are hardly any posed pictures, I am just present and in such an honest way.
The entire year is filled with natural images and for the first time I see myself. Through his lens I am without makeup, without cover or posturing and I still…beautiful and alive.
It was a discovery.
I was loved and I am loved still and I see that in the photos.
It’s a blessing and a gift.
My daughter started documenting life and has amazing pictures that I save for her exhibit one day.
The language of love speaks to me through images and it spreads and passes hands from to another and this to that generation.