Tag Archives: death and grieving

Focusing on the Important Things

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops joyful color of a fallen leaf in focusing on life and death, the important things.“Selling isn’t the important thing,” I said, “I just want people to see my work.” It was my first solo show as a photographer in Ithaca. The focus of the exhibit was death and grieving, reframing our views of these. Assuring myself the focal point of the event would be my artwork, not myself, I’d chosen to wear a black dress and over-the-knee black boots to recede into the background. But I’d put on the red beads my mother bought me, so I wouldn’t vanish entirely. The red necklace was to keep guests from fixating on the tragedy of That Woman Whose Daughter Died. After all, the core of the show was supposed to be creativity and healing. If people couldn’t see the forest from the trees, at least they might spot the joyful color of a fallen leaf.

At the reception, after making the rounds of the fourteen huge photographs, people headed over to me one-by-one or in twos. Suddenly I was the center of attention. But I didn’t know how to operate in the spotlight. I didn’t know how to break off speaking with an individual or small group in order to be with the next. Guests waited patiently for me to get to them, and then they gave up and walked away. The couple of times I excused myself saying, “Oh, I need to give that person behind you a hug,” it felt like cutting people off. And the few rare moments I stood alone, I was too shy to approach the strangers examining my work. I was entirely clueless in the art of mingling.

A mother and daughter came through, stopping to study each piece. I wondered what the girl thought of my story and images. I wondered what the mother was saying. Several of the pictures were of my own daughter: Marika as a baby. Marika at age four, at nineteen. We had never attended a show centered on death. Maybe if Marika and I had seen an exhibit like this we’d have had a discussion about dying.

Beyond the friends talking to me, the mother and daughter I didn’t know were ready to leave. I wanted to greet them, thank them for coming. Maybe I could answer a question, or ask which piece they liked best.

I didn’t stop them. But I stood there wishing and hoping my photos would start a conversation between them. Focusing on life and death. The important things.

 

So – does anyone have any tips for how to circulate when you’re in the spotlight?

 

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A Black Hole

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops the eye of a flower to represent the black hole that happens when a loved one dies, that happens when a writer falls into creative block.A black hole can happen when a star dies. It can happen when someone you love dies. And when artists or writers run out of inspiration, losing the ability to create new work, they may wail, “I’m lost in a black hole.”

In a black hole, the pull of gravity is so strong that nothing can escape it, not even light. Powerful tidal forces exert pressure that compresses matter, making it plunge at the speed of light, stretching it out lengthwise and squashing it sideways, tearing it to pieces, smashing, disintegrating, instantly incinerating and obliterating it to ashes.

I remember the early days after I lost my daughter. I remember the crushing feeling, the slow leaking of my energy, gravity ripping me apart. The hopelessness. My insides were imploding. I was alone. Aching. Trapped. Lost in a deep, dark, endless emptiness.

Black holes come in different sizes, from micro to supermassive, from death and grieving to creative block.

“If you feel you are trapped in a black hole, don’t give up. There is a way out,” says world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who has spent a lifetime studying black holes. But even he questions what kind of shape you, or any matter that gets sucked into a black hole, might be in upon escaping. Hawking says whatever gets freed from the hole is “for all practical purposes … useless.” Still, somehow, my hope survived my black hole. A battered ounce of hope is enough to fuel one forward.

Last week I started off my “new season” of photographic images. Taking cautious baby steps, keeping it simple, I photographed all sorts of orifices with my newly repaired, cleaned camera. Openings in foliage, depressions in trees, eyes of fall flowers… I made a circle. A square. And the beginnings of a plan to bring joy and color back into my life:

Start with a black hole. Put it in a box, to contain the chaos that might grow from it. Hug the negative space around it. Skirt the edges of its perimeter, aware it could suck in and swallow whatever approaches its point of no return. Surround it. Expand it. Drag it around and poke at it. Keep peeking into it to look for light. Learn to love the black hole that periodically pulls. And find new ways to fill it.

 

What can you do with a black hole? How can you fill it? Should black holes just be avoided?

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