Photos document a timeline, are a snapshot of body and mind at certain times along our lives. Photos allow for time travel. Looking at an image from the past might explain moods and things and connections that were not obvious at the time. This might have a therapeutic effect. Looking for clues in how I looked in the past as compared to today, well this might be very helpful, especially during times of loss, pain and distress.
Writer and filmmaker Olivia Clement did exactly this. In the Sydney Morning Herald she published an essay, I took a photo of myself every day after my marriage ended. The morning she left her husband, at a friend’s place, she caught a glimpse of herself in her mirror. Intuitively, she took out her camera, set it on timer, and took a picture.
When I look at that photo now, more than two years later, it haunts me. The woman in the picture is exhausted, face pale, body hunched, and eyes swollen. Her hair is Einstein-like and she looks a little crazed, her gaze unfocused. She can think of nothing else but to sit and be still. She’s heartbroken.
Even in her desperation, she recognized the chance for recovery, and so every day she continued to take the photos. Olivia Clement’s journey goes on. For some time she thought she looked devastated, and slowly she started processing what happened:
I continued to take the photos, and in these, it’s the small details that are comforting. I get a manicure. I make breakfast. I exercise. I put flowers on the kitchen counter. Each photograph bares the smallest hint that I am finding a routine again.
As if she sensed this was the beginning of something:
The photos from this time reveal something else. In some, I am naked. I lie on the bed, or lean against a wall, arching my back and playing with my curves against the light. There’s a flirtatiousness in these images that is laced with desperation. I look determined to rediscover something.
She realized the captured moments had served as a reminder that life was not static, no experience or pain permanent, but now she simply had to live it.
In this last picture, taken in spring, she’s so much more determined, concluding:
Outside, the trees were blossoming, but I was feeling like I’d shed something. I’m so intensely proud of the woman in this picture. She’s not only healing, she’s something else entirely. She’s strong, she’s learning, and she’s genuinely excited.
I hadn’t realised how much of a weight I’d been carrying until my marriage ended, and in this photograph, there is so much lightness. In my gaze are endless possibilities.
The intimate, documented process of moving on and healing. You don’t need a fancy camera for it. Just a feel for the humble certainty that there is so much more to photography than photos only.