Can I just say how much I love the Internet? 10 years ago, the only ways to learn about photography were through expensive courses or magazines and books, which added up to almost as expensive as courses. For a poor student like me, those weren’t really options, especially since I never wanted to be a commercial or professional photographer, at least not in the models that I saw available. Libraries had books too, but the collections weren’t exactly cutting edge, and I ran through them pretty quickly. And while I believe that looking at photographs is one of the best ways to improve your own, it’s not a great way to learn the technique or craft behind them.

This is something I’ve only learned with hindsight. I guess you can’t know what you don’t know. Back then, I had no idea of the possibilities. For example, I thought the only way to use artificial lights was in a studio, and I had no desire to work in a studio (it helps that I didn’t have access to one anyways). Until the past year, when I started reading Strobist and Joe McNally, I had no idea of just how much you can do with a small flash (or several). I also had no idea until recently that so many of the photographs I’ve seen whose beauty has made me gasp – portraits in particular – often used small off-camera flashes.

I also had no real concept of a “body of work” until the past year. I’ve pretty much always just shot for the single image, based on what interests me in any given moment or place. I was aware of photo essays, but I never really had much interest in them; in my mind, creating a photo story requires you to choose lesser images that move the narrative along over great images that don’t move it, and I’m just not that into compromise.

When I first started thinking in terms of a body of work, I thought it was something the photographer had to set out to do in advance, and that approach made me really uncomfortable. I have become more comfortable with exploring my intentions, and I’ve even enjoyed the exploration, but I’ve also discovered – through the Internet – that many photographers aren’t consciously aware of their intentions until they’ve shot most or all of their project. I’ve seen a number of interviews with photographers about a project or body or work, who said they started out on the project not really knowing what they were doing or why, but they trusted that they would figure it out eventually. This makes me feel much better.

* * *

I’ve spent the last week or so going through all the photos I’ve made since 2006. I was doing it for something else, but in the process I discovered all kinds of photos that at the time I thought were rejects but that now are quite interesting. When I collected them all together, I made my husband sit through a slideshow of them, and at the end we both concluded that they were pretty dark. They present a pretty bleak picture of where I live. Which is strange because we don’t live in a bleak place, and I’m actually pretty happy with my life. I wondered what was going on in them. I’ve been worrying at that question throughout the week too, already kind of knowing the answer, but unable to put it into words.

Remember how I wanted to find a way to represent motherhood through photography without using pictures of my kid? Well I think I figured out how. Not only that, but I think I’ve already done it. That’s what I was doing for the last two years.

All these pictures show undervalued and overlooked things and places: back doors and alleys, garbage cans, ripped old posters, graffiti, peeling paint, crumbling bricks, strange things abandoned in the river – you get the drift. I think I was drawn to make those images to express my experience of motherhood, how our culture both undervalues and overlooks the hard and important work of mothering. I think that could explain why I’m also so drawn to photographing people I meet at the drop-in centre.

Also with the benefit of hindsight, going over the last two and a half years of photos, I discovered a shift in my photography, a shift that really began early in 2008 – coincidentally enough, right around the time of my son’s second birthday. There are many reasons for that shift, I’m sure, but I’m equally certain that one of them has something to do with the shift from mothering an infant to mothering a toddler-slash-preschooler. It’s still intense, but I’m more confident and have more resilience, thanks to free evenings after about 8:30, more uninterrupted and consistent sleep, and more freedom physically. This weekend I went through my journal from the same period, and found the same shift in my words also right around my son’s second birthday.

I’m pretty excited to discover that I already have a body of work sitting right in front me, and that it’s reached a kind of closure (although I know that being a mother will always be integral to my photography). Now I just need to edit it.

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