I've heard it said that in the moments before you die you can see your life flash before your eyes. I think that if you are a photographer this can happen every time you look at your pictures. Maybe this is the real reason we make pictures, so that in the end we can see how we have spent our time here, and who we have spent it with. I used the summer of 2014 to edit a web archive of all the pictures I had made since I shot my first frame in 1989.
The phrase I use so often now, when talking about my work, "I take pictures to remind me of what I learned while I was taking pictures", has never been more true than during those months of making a retrospective survey of my work. When I look back on the first pictures I made, I see some of the images that were so disappointing to me back then as the best pictures that I've ever taken. I see no concept or narrative, just an answer to a call from like souls who I must have wanted to be on the journey with. If I was frustrated technically -lighting and focus have always vexed me (they still do)- it was because I desperately wanted to get it right; to preserve what I felt when I looked at who ever was in front of me. I look at rolls of film now and see the worst mistake I made was tying to make the best picture. There are frames now that hit me in the gut, like the two teddy bears tucked into the neatly made bed in a Miami homeless camp under I-95. I almost over looked those two frames. In fact I did over look them twenty years ago. Now I feel like those might have needed to be the only two frames I made in my days under that bridge. I can see where I strayed from the photo path that I had started out on.
When I began to get technically more in control the work was cleaner, but I'm afraid it was at the expense of solidarity with the subject. I can sense when I trusted my feelings about who I was with and when I was really in tune with theirs. Sometimes when it came time to publish the pictures, I second-guessed and went with things that were visually familiar.
Now, twenty years later, most of these pictures have not seen the light of day and I have a second chance to follow my heart, to pick the ones that resonate with all I have learned since. The ones that seem so honest, I cannot believe that I denied them until now. I can't say that the time I have spent looking back will make me a better photographer. In fact the world has become so saturated with images, that I often feel immoral adding to that wasteland. This moral quandary is compounded by the fact that I am a photographer of the compulsive variety; I need to engage through the camera more than I need the photographic product. The idea that photography is a way to evaluate my life forces me to look at how I've chosen to spend it. When I factor in the editing and distribution, in whatever form, the time spent to make a picture is at least double the time it subtracts from doing other things.
I want to thank everyone in these pictures, even though I may never find you again, for a rich and wonderful life that would certainly not have been the same if we hadn't met.
xoxo Brenda K.
Brooklyn, New York
© Copyright 1989 - Brenda Kenneally. All rights reserved.