This is one of those blog posts that I’ve started a dozen times only to find myself deleting the words and restarting. Fact is, there isn’t any natural way to bring up uncomfortable topics. But for the sake of my own healing, for the legacy I leave Pascaline and Blaze, for the generations of women to come after me in my family, for all that I stand for and have built my life around, I’m going to forfeit natural and be abrupt.
On February 14th this year, I crossed my twenty year milestone from when I was date raped. Twenty years. Has that much time really gone by?
I remember being nineteen, desperate to find any kind of book that would offer me hope. That’s when I found the book called, Sexual Assault: Will I Ever Feel Okay Again? At the end of her book was a chapter titled “Twenty Four Years After the Rape”. I remember reading that chapter first. She talked about her children. She talked about how far away the rape seemed, like another lifetime. She talked about how she had come to rebuild a life that was worth living. I wanted to badly to see a photo of her, to know what freedom from shame could look like twenty plus years later. But there wasn’t one.
The very idea of my rape seeming far away, another lifetime, seemed impossible. I think I secretly tucked away a dream to make it to twenty years–that this marker in time would give me reason to celebrate because I had chosen to not give up on life.
For years, I’ve avoided stores like Fred Meyer or Target around the Valentine’s Day season. It’s been a battle to separate the nightmares from that night and all the hearts and cupids that decorate the stores. My birthday is also on February 9th, and my mama has always called me her Valentine Baby. When the thief of all joy comes to rob us, he settles for nothing and tries to take everything.
I have held on to a secret wish, a whispered dream, that I would one day find myself looking at Valentine’s Day tokens and not feel the pain from years past. Without me realizing it, that very thing happened this last February. I was in Chicago on a layover and without realizing it I was looking at the different Valentine’s Day tokens in one of the gift stores–wondering what I wanted to do with the kids to celebrate Valentine’s. Time came to board, and as I headed to my flight I stopped. I realized that it had happened. A deep shift had happened inside me when I wasn’t looking. I had looked at Valentine’s Day gifts without ever thinking about the rape.
Ever since that moment…it is hard for me to find words to express…but I feel like I’m SHINING! I feel like I’m SHINING, like a BRIGHT STAR. It’s as if I’ve passed a milestone that at one time, a scared, vulnerable 19 year old girl, doubted she would ever make it to. All of a sudden, I’ve realized on a deeper level that I not only made it here, I’m making it!
While at WPPI, the SONY Artisans of Imagery group had a special dinner together. During the dinner, I asked Brian Smith if he could do something for me. I told him about this recent milestone, and I asked him if he could help me with a self portrait that expressed a shining quality, a brightness that is no longer overrun by the shadows. Brian is an amazing photographer, a Pulitzer Prize amazing kind of photographer. And he looked at me with total respect and said, “Yes. Let’s try to make it happen this week.” Which brings me to being Brian’s model for one of his SONY booth shoots.
We had a GREAT time joking and teasing each other, and it was powerful to be in front of the camera again. I’m always telling photographers that the best way to help people relax in front of the camera is to spend time in front of the camera. I got a dose of my own medicine and was reminded of how vulnerable and lost we feel when the camera is pointing at us.
But Brian Smith was AMAZING to work with, and not only was he taking my portrait, but he was working to capture that shining quality I want to show my kids. These are some of my favorites.
Brian purposely used a Ring Flash to create a “BRIGHT” feel for the photos.
The Ring Flash fits over the lens and fills in every shadow with this beautiful glow. You might also think a white blouse on a white background wouldn’t work, but Brian felt it would make the story that much stronger.
Here is an example of how the brightness changed when we added my favorite blue wrap and turned off the Ring Flash. This photo is by far one of my favorites. I am so at peace with myself, comfortable and at home in my skin. Confident. Thank you Brian! These are amazing!
Ever since that day in Chicago’s airport, I feel a new release of joy pouring into my life. I feel a new release of confidence, of clarity in my mission to empower women. And most of all, I feel like every shadow has been filled. The shadows are still there. But the shadows have become a part of what makes the story so beautiful. I LOVE the shadow in this photo.
My painful experiences will always be with me, but the shadows illuminate the brightness in my life that much more. And that is why this last one is my favorite!
Thank you so much Brian Smith! What an incredible gift. These photos will live on for generations. These photos will tell my kids, grandkids and great grandkids the story of how we don’t have to get rid of the darkness, we don’t have to live in shame, we can embrace our pain and end up shining that much brighter. All my respect and love Brian. Thank you.
And maybe a woman who is deeply hurting, like I was twenty years ago…who desperately needs to see what it looks like twenty years after, will find hope in the story of these photos.
Enjoy this special Photo Recipe on Capturing Your Self Portrait from Beryl Young. Beryl applied for the SOAR! Scholarship years ago, and even though she wasn’t a recipient she pushed forward with her pain and photography dream. Her story is incredibly moving, and I know this inspiring Photo Recipe will bless you.
Take some time this week to think about the kind of self portrait you could capture that would show your children a deeper part of who their mama is and was. If you don’t know where to start think of a few words to describe this season in your life. I started by telling Brian Smith the words; bright, shining, and full.