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worth a thousand words {6/3/13}

Kelley Clink

I've mentioned before that I have another blog, one dedicated solely to my photography. For a while now I've been wanting to streamline to a single blog. You know, for my sanity. The problem was that my photography and my writing felt like separate things.  Did my photos have a home alongside musings about grief, suicide, and mental illness? Then I remembered: I was grieving the first time I picked up a camera. Less than three months after my brother's death, it was a shield between me and the world, an acceptable reason to be a step removed. I raised it to my eye and the viewfinder cropped life into manageable pieces. Pieces I could capture and pin down.  Make permanent. 

With the push of a button I could stop time. 

Which was the thing I wanted second most. What I most wanted was to turn back time, to go back three months and stop my brother from hanging himself  

Despite his diagnosis of bipolar disorder, despite the attempt he’d survived during his senior year in high school, I hadn’t seen it coming. I hadn’t noticed how depression had crept into the corners of his life and spread, working its way into every crack, until there was nothing left for him but darkness. I was living hundreds of miles away.  I wasn’t there.  I didn’t see.

I picked up a camera three months after his death, looking for something to hold onto. Hoping to learn how to open my eyes.

I have experienced a lot in my life. Over the past fifteen years I have moved across the country twice, earned two college degrees, traveled to the other side of the world, and grieved the loss of all my grandparents. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, an aunt. I have suffered from depression and anxiety. I have dealt with infertility. I have survived a serious illness. All of these things, and more, have included risks and rewards, joy and pain, failure and achievement. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote, “Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are.” All of my trials and adventures, once I learned to pay attention to them, have served to crumble me.   

My brother’s suicide was not my first experience with loss or grief, but it was the first time I became aware of the crumbling. Moreover, it was the first time I realized that I needed—that I wanted—to be broken down. I wanted to be soft and yielding. I wanted to make wildflowers.

In the first years after my brother’s death, I knew only that I wanted to create: love, life, art. I took pictures, I wrote, I tried to have children. In the decade since then, I have realized that the act of creation is part of my crumbling as well. It enables me to get outside myself. More importantly, it has proven to be the path to connection—to myself, to others, and to something larger and unknowable. The collective undercurrent of all existence. 

Photography, for me, is no longer a way to stop time. It’s a way to settle into it, to become grounded in the present. It’s a way to share my experience, to participate in the larger narrative—to be a thread in the tapestry of life.

I have learned how to open my eyes. I have also learned that I will continue to open them over and over again. That I will spend the rest of my life learning how to see. 

And so I am making a space here for my pictures. My wildflowers.

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