In this body of work I am coming to terms with loss. I have lost both my father and my mother, yet it’s the suicide of my brother that seeps into my work like a slow forming stain—and has slowly become the stand-in for the others.
My brother took his own life on his first visit home after severing his spinal cord in a motorcycle accident. What always comes to mind is the first few lines of his suicide note:
“I arrived home just about the time the honeysuckle blooms.”
Russell was not the sort of person to notice flowers, so I find it really beautiful, and achingly sad at how poetic it was for him to stop and see the beauty around him if only because he knew it would be for the last time.
The last person to see my brother alive was my oldest neighbor, Margaret Daniel. It’s fitting, then, that she has now become my subject and the strongest thread throughout my work.
The first time we sat together to make a portrait, she told me the story of Russell’s last day.
“I made your brother my home made bread, his favorite…I buttered a slice and took it up to him, and he called down, “Margaret can I have some more of that bread?” He finished the whole loaf, and then me and your mother went for a walk down the lane and when we came back he had shot himself.”
Margaret gracefully weaves stories of buttering my brother’s last slice of bread with memories of me as a young girl, wanting to eat her homemade strawberry jelly on my new white bedspread. She laughs as she recalls finding me with fruit all over the bed. Blood and jelly, two very different stains.
I thread these stories together, of pain and loss and of the sweetness of childhood memories.
My memories become intertwined with hers as I rediscover my past through her stories. Together, we’ve created a family album of what was once the intangible landscape of my childhood. The work encircles itself as our conversations about native flowers, life and death become the seeds of my photographs.
Editors’ note: This project was chosen for distinction by juror Anna Walker Skillman in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2015. Each of the jury members selected one photographer from the entrants to be awarded a special $1,000 grant.