Catherine, I participated in your Self Portraiture as Medicine course this year and it led me to look at a lot of emotions around being vulnerable, grief and loss. I totally loved this experience and gained so much out of exploring my body as a reflection of these feelings.
Can you tell us a bit about your work as a photographer and what eventually led you to lead this course?
Thank you so much for taking my course! I love that you had such a deep and meaningful experience of it and of yourself! I’ve been using self-portraiture as my medicine for 30 years now. It helps me process what in the beginning was a difficulty in articulating verbally what was living underneath the surface of the relationships in my life, including the relationship I had with myself.
It’s evolved over the years and continues to be a place I explore the unseen but deeply felt “river beneath the river”. I wanted to offer others an opportunity to create meaningful work (not just a
snapshot or selfie) about their own lives and internal landscape through the medium of photography.
You openly shared your personal path of divorce, healing from addiction and gaining a new perspective on life. Would you say becoming sober has been one of the biggest transitions in your life?
Yes. I got sober when I was 18 years old. It was very difficult for me to handle my feelings and life on life’s terms totally exposed and raw without numbing out with a drink or drug in my system. I was no longer interested in the old way of living but totally uncomfortable in a new way. I felt like I had a layer of skin missing. I just allowed myself to feel life intensely and all the that comes with living deep inside of it. Artistic expression became an outlet that started in high school before I went to rehab and it was what I
returned to when I got sober. It was similar during my divorce. Creating what I consider evidence of my internal landscape at that time in my life.
Personally, I’ve just come out of a phase of deep transition work in 2017. These times are so special and can be so frightful all at once. To me, it felt like breakdown leading to breakthrough and now I’m in this soft, wobbly state of re-birth. What kind of medicine did you find in your personal life when going through transitions?
I relate very much to what you’re expressing here. I too am going through a period of deep transition/transformation. Changing a very hardwired perception of myself and of situations around me. I turned to the Toltec Path of living, taught by Miguel Ruiz ( author of the Four Agreements ) as well as some form of creative outlet. Miguel was my teacher for about 5 years and I worked in his office helping him run his power journeys. The medicine that comes from practicing “waking up” and recognizing that suffering is a result of the beliefs and thoughts I have… can be radically dismantling as well as a way to break free of old stories and rise up and out of them to the truth.
What helped you to trust the process?
Creativity always helps. It’s a practice of letting go, moving into the portal of unlimited potential, giving myself permission to not know.
As a photographer, you switch from exploring from being behind the camera to being the object of attention. Do you feel more comfortable on one side and if so, why?
I love both for the very same reason… When I look through the lens of my camera I see my version of God looking back at me. It’s a deeply spiritual experience and I’m fully present with all of my senses open and deeply “listening” and watching…waiting for the moment to happen again and again. When I’m in front of the camera, it’s the same thing, just a different way of accessing the connection. Both are a portal to an unnameable but known “place”.
For someone who is more used to taking selfies than self-portraiture: How would you recommend to start exploring this tool while being on a healing journey?
My self-portraits are based on an emotion or on something I want to create documentation of that isn’t about the physical world we live in. So I try to explore these things through light, composition, visual language of objects and using blur and motion to evoke emotions in my self-portraits. I would suggest just starting by considering what it is that’s happening in your life that you want to explore and then trying to create that in your photographs. In self-portraits, you don’t have to focus on your face at all. I think that all photographs are inherently self-portraits in some way. They tell the story of what’s important to you. You can use a landscape to express your feelings. How does the outside work mirror your life?
As a Birth Doula, I’m always super interested in knowing how a woman’s life transformed through motherhood. What kind of passages did you go through becoming Max’s mum?
I’m not sure I can accurately describe them here. I learned that the world doesn’t value people who have Down syndrome and have been going through a passage of advocating for him on a level I didn’t know I had in me. People tend to either feel sorry for me or they think I have an angel baby, both based on old stereotypes that don’t fit the truth of who my son is. My son is not a diagnosis. He is a beautiful boy named Max. Who is happy and sad. He experiences all the emotions we all do. He is unique, smart, funny, talented, curious, musical, a great dancer…. and has a lot to offer the world. Being his mother has inspired me to go back to filmmaking and create something about and for him. It’s inspired creativity in a way I didn’t know I had in me. It pushed me into facing the enormous responsibility of motherhood and how terrifying it can be to make decisions that can impact this little human being in ways I can’t always know. It’s also helped me move into trusting myself as a mother – I don’t have childhood memories so
I don’t have anything to reference. I didn’t know how much love I could have for someone. The love is endless. And I move mountains for this little being… I didn’t know I had that in me. I will stop at nothing to make sure he gets every single opportunity to live his best life ever…whatever that happens to be for him. Can you tell I’m passionate about Max! I love seeing and learning from him in all the amazing ways he does.
Can I just say that every time I saw Max in your videos and posts, there’s this enormous joy, sparks of laughter and curiosity flowing over. I feel like he is elevating the energy around him and it’s so beautiful to witness. How do you feel about his spirit?
Being his mother we are deeply connected to an emotional, non-verbal level. So we “speak” without words all the time. That bright beam is something that I personally feel just because of this bond we have. That’s a bit inevitable as the mother of any child. I’m deeply moved by him in every single way there can be.
What is coming up for you next? What are you working on and how can people connect with you?
I’m heading to Paris and holding a retreat called “ La Vie Enchantee:: The enchanted life “ November 17-20th. It’s a deep dive into creating an enchanted life through living it with us in Paris and starting new habits of creativity, engaging all of your senses in your everyday life, connecting with the city and allowing it to speak to us rather than running around like tourists. This is photography meets empowered living through both creative expression and the culture, food, music, language, the architecture of this