tired of 2013 already

I know it's not just me- 2013 is being a prick of a year. It's like a weird tidal wave of sickness and sadness. It's become a conversation starter everywhere I go "2013- what the hell?"

2013 is also gong to bring some big changes for Katie. Jaylen's major surgery, the one that will either get his body functioning close to normally or set him back is coming up in the next few weeks. She is scared, worried about everything that surgery can bring but also scared of what changes it will bring. Because no matter what- he won't be like he is now. Talking about Jaylen's life, I often tell Katie I don't know if I could do what she does, be the mother she is. She is so selfless and so strong. She simply responds " You would do it because you have too. You can't be weak."

I'll be there on surgery day, trying to support a friend who is going through something I really can't imagine. 


  1. Devastating.

    "You would do it because you have too. You can't be weak."
    That describes so much about parenting - it seems to be possible to get through just about anything because that's what you're there to do and there really isn't any alternative. Somehow you just keep going and you just do it. But it does require incredible strength and fortitude - and obviously so much more so in the case of your friend that you are describing.

    Serious question:
    Your photos are excellent, and heart-wrenching.

    But I'm really curious: what role do you think your photos play in this situation? Do they help? You talk here about how important the photos are to the parents. But even there it wasn't clear if you saw your photos as a kind of barrier (you used the term shield) between you and what was going on, or whether you saw them as something that really helped. And if they help, how do you think they help?

    It's a kind of 'what's the power of photography' question, but I'm really interested in how you see these photos.

    1. Hi Tim,

      It's a loaded question. I think all photographers would like to believe their work has the power to change, but realistically look at all the incredible work the master photographers have done in the past 40 years and it hasn't stopped awful things repeating.

      I guess it's something that's always going to be a struggle with any sort of photography that involves showing people in the worst times of their lives. I don't think the act of me taking photos does much- in fact I'm sure it's pretty annoying to have me clicking away in pivotal moments. But I do know that the actual photos do something to validate how the people I photograph feel. The thing that breaks my heart about Katie, Tyler's mother Georgette, Tyler, Mark- these people have no concept that the way they have handled illness is not normal. That, in fact, most people can't be strong, a lot of parents can't cope with a disabled child, most teenagers diagnosed with lukaemia don't make an effort to study medical journals to find out about the illness. I think it speaks volumes about them that they don't see how special they are. But I have always found once I show them the photos, it creates enough distance from the situation that they start to get a sense of what it is about them that the rest of us see? I was showing Katie some of the final edit on Tuesday- sitting in a shopping centre, her beautiful toddler running around playing with other kids, other parents blissfully unaware as they judge the young mother whose baby is running away a little further than they would let him, never knowing Jaylen is enjoying his 2 hours of freedom not being connected to a machine. Katie was looking at the photos, saying which ones she loved, which ones she though were powerful. She then said she wishes she had me there from his birth to show his journey, which she has said before. She spoke about trying to get my access to photograph the major surgery that is coming up, saying how intense it will be.

      So in a long winded answer- yes, I think it does help. Maybe not in the way that it will really change anything but in the way it can give her something to feel proud of. A girl Katie knows visited Canberra and saw my photo of Katie and Jaylen in the portrait prize. Katie was so proud that people she knows are getting to see the other aspect of her life. No one wants to be invisible, no one wants to be forgotten, especially when they are struggling to get through every day. She walks into hospital and quite often gets ignored by staff because she is in so often and they have so many high needs patients. She has to administer care for Jaylen even within the hospital because they are so understaffed. She comes home to a unit she lives in on her own, 10 minutes from the hospital, an hour and a half away from her family. Then she gets up every day and does it again.
      Knowing that people, such as yourself, are seeing part of her story and thinking about what she goes through, even for one second, I know that kind of support helps her to feel like she isn't completely alone?

  2. Well put.

    I didn't mean it as a loaded question (although I realise that's how it sounded). I'm really interested in what photography/photos can accomplish when taken seriously, which you obviously do. It's a rare photo that can help change the world, but short of that photos still have power and I was interested in what sort. And your photos are obviously meant to be taken seriously, but they're not strictly documentary and they're not happy snaps either. There's a real intimacy in them and it really made me curious.

    I do think the people you photograph are remarkably strong - so it is good you can share that story. You should share this kind of feedback from me (and anyone else who comments on the photos) back with them, given what you said at the end of your answer.

    If I may be so impertinent to say so, I also think you should write more with your photos. This explanation you've just written is quite eloquent and really fills in the picture about your subjects (in addition to answering my question about motivation) - having their circumstances explained lends the photos even more impact.

    1. It's so funny Mr Tim- I feel like sometimes I shoudn't say too much about the people I photograph because I have personal relationships with them so it feels like I am telling my friends stories to the world. But I do tell them what people say- when some photos of Katie were featured on a blog the comments went nuts and I made sure Katie read every one of them so she could get a sense of how special she is in other's eyes. One of the joys of facebook is that she can be tapped into people's reactions instantly. your comment has made me think more about the looming question of final presentation for this series. I don't want prints in a gallery so people can drink wine and think " isn't that awful" and go home. I think I want to show the work to other mothers and parents who can truly understand the magnitude of how special she is.

      In fact - I know the reaction I want. Katie and I were at a cafe a few months back. She had a crazy morning, turned up with no make up and a tracksuit on and looked even younger than she is. When she ordered a coffee she asked a question about the special of the day. The woman behind the counter looked at her with so much disdain when she couldn't pronounce whatever overpriced crap it was. I saw the judgement on the woman's face when Katie couldn't get Jaylen's pram to wedge properly in between the tables, and when Jaylen started crying. But then I picked Jaylen up while Katie struggled with the pram and his shirt came up. His Pedge and line were visible, bits of plastic hanging out of a babies body. The woman who was serving us saw it and her face melted- she came over with the coffees and had tears in her eyes- asking about Jaylen and telling Katie what a beautiful little boy he was. Just by seeing a tiny glimpse of what life is like for the young mother she had judged seconds before her perspective changed. That is the kind of person I want to see these photos- someone who really needs to understand how much more there is to a girl like Katie.

      And I always appreciate you taking the time to contact ever since the first Flickr comment years ago. And it was a perfect, timely question that has been on my mind and I feel better for having attempted to answer!

  3. That's a great story. You should write all this up in an essay and have it published in some sort of journal of quality. I reckon you could get a photo essay published in any of a number of good publications. There are several angles to this - Katie's situation. Judgements and how they change with circumstances. The usefulness and power of good photos.

    And I'm glad you appreciate the contact. In part my questioning is probably sparked because I've more or less given up on photography myself, but am still intrigued by it. With two young kids (both of whom have needed hospital-level medical intervention, though not nearly as serious as in the cases you've photographed), a busy job and whatnot I just lost the energy and motivation to take photos. Part of my case, and why my line of questioning of you arose, is to do with intention. What I enjoyed was taking photos of people and what interests me is understanding people. I love portraits that give you an immediate sense of who someone really is or that help you understand what makes someone tick. But, being just an interested amateur, I was never good enough to do the kind of portraiture I really wanted to do and then I ran out of time and energy to do anything at all. I sold off most of my cameras. The thought of actually sitting down and editing photos in Lightroom fills me with dread now and I haven't developed a roll of film for over two years. Anyway that's just a long explanation to say that in thinking about what motivated me in photography and why I lost it, I'm really interested in what motivates others too. These photos of yours are so engaging and you reveal quite a bit about your own interests and motivation on your blog, so it really made me wonder.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear about your little ones- I hope they are both better now.

      Motivation is a funny thing- I had dinner with some friends who are top notch wedding photographers. Not the usual tacky crap- their work is really artistic and they are considered the best in their field. I shoot very few weddings and rely on corporate work to pay the bills so felt very uncreative in comparison. I was chatting away to a photographer I'd just met and it turns out he had seen some of my Tyler shots a few years back. He was quite shocked that I could " find the time and motivation" to work on my documentary photos which seemed strange to me because I certainly didn't become a photographer to shoot corporate head shots and would probably loose my mind if that's all I did. That's a big part of why I photographed the series on my Dad- caring for him took up so much of my time that I couldn't photograph anything else so I began to photograph him. For me, photography always seems to come first but I say that as someone without kids and who has flexibility in my job, a job that also keeps a camera in my hand no matter how boring what is in front of it.

      You might find you come back to photography when the time is right- I had over a year after uni where I didn't take one single photo and was pretty sure I never would again.

  4. I hope everything will be well after the surgery. My prayers and wishes are with you guys. Just hang on and don’t lose hope. Everything happens for a reason and purpose. I believe everything will turn out well. God said to cast all your worries upon Him coz’ he will soothe every storm within you.

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