My favorite movie these days is a cartoon. Yes. I do have small children. But this cartoon is of such high quality that even I cannot get enough. It’s called Song of the Sea. It takes an old Irish legend about a selkie (part human, part seal) and brings it to life in a small family that lives in a lighthouse on an island. It is expertly crafted in visual, musical, and literary arts.
This movie wouldn’t be strong if the story itself were not so powerful, and if I didn’t feel like its message was speaking so directly to me. The story is all about what we do with our emotions [not unlike Pixar’s Inside Out, another great cartoon I’m into lately!]. There are two parallel sets of characters. One set are all normal humans, the other set are the people of legend and magic. The great antagonist of the film is a witch who traps people’s emotions to keep them from being overwhelming, be they big and bad or big and good emotions. Her parallel is the grandmother to the main characters. She also cannot tolerate big emotions, or great risk. She is seen belittling her son’s emotions and popping pills to calm herself down.
On my now fourth viewing of the film, I caught a new symptom of the grandmother’s relationship with emotion. It is her granddaughter’s sixth birthday and she’s come to be sure it is celebrated properly with fancy dresses and candlelit cakes. As she sets the camera up to shoot the birthday girl blowing out her candle, she says, “Now everybody smile. I want to capture the emotion of the day.”
As a photographer, that word capture rang out to me.
Capture is a word I use often to describe what I aim to do. Who we are in this moment, who we are in relationship with, how we are feeling, what we are experiencing is all so fleeting, like the ripples in a river. But with a photograph taken in the whirlwind of a moment, we have the power to push pause and “capture” that moment so that we can hold onto it forever. It feels like a good power that my little tool can wield.
But portrayed through her parallel, the witch, who also captures emotions, we see another side of what that looks like. Emotions are all bottled up in magical jars in her attic, brewing and storming and waiting to be set free. The witch’s victims who have their emotions captured gradually begin to turn to stone until all their emotions are sucked out of them all together. Their inability to feel leads to their inability to move.
As a person with depression, I know how dangerous overwhelming emotions can be. More than once, I have drowned in my own emotions. And to keep afloat and maintain balance, I do take medication. And I also believe very strongly in allowing ourselves to experience emotions. And not just good emotions, but the full range of emotions that round us out as complete humans. In fact, I know my depression is at its most dangerous when I no longer have the capacity to feel emotions at all, because like the fairies in the film, with no emotions I too become immobilized. Emotions, in balance, are my sign of healthy life.
And I think emotions are an essential part of what makes for good photography (whether or not there is a human in the frame). A good photograph can display exquisite joy, tender affection, contemplative stillness, anguish, pain, and comfort. One image I’ve captured in particular comes to mind. It is of a bride on her wedding day. We were attempting to gather the entire wedding party and family for formal shots when the excitement and stress and exhaustion of the day suddenly hit the bride’s young daughter like a truck. And in a gesture most anti-thetical to bridezilla one could dream of, this mother-bride disregarded her dress and make-up, she put the crowd of onlookers out of her mind, and she certainly made herself last on the list of her present priorities as she knelt to the floor, held her daughter, and let the tears and sobs pour out until her daughter was refilled and revived by her love. It was an intimate moment [so while I humbly shared it with the bride, I won’t share it publicly here]. It was a hard moment. It was a beautiful moment. It is a moment I did not just capture, it is a moment I treasure in my heart as a reminder of what patience, sacrifice, and beauty looks like.
The necessary part of my craft is that I not just capture these emotions, but that I set them free. When I get to share those moments I find to be beautiful, I open doors for connection, for people to see the life within themselves and also the feelings in another that they may be harboring within themselves. Shared captures offer opportunities for empathy, both extended and received. When vulnerable emotions can be shared, we know we are less alone, more safe, and hopefully a little bit stronger. But that requires your help.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably also taken a moment to take a look at, at least one of my photos [for more click on "showcase" in my website menu navigation]. So thank you. Thank you for allowing me not just to capture, but to share. You make me stronger. I hope you will find something true to share too!