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In my life, there are certain overlaps in being an artist and being a psychotherapist. Both for me involve an interest in knowing about things, a desire to look deeply and an interest in hearing the stories of others. As I seemed to have come from the womb with the at times inconvenient penchant for leading “the examined life”, it is no accident that many of my photographic projects have concerned the thoughts and feelings of others, as well as my own. I have sought to create portraits of others that represent not only their physicality, but also their interior lives. I have created a structured process that I engage in with those sitting for portraits that provides opportunities for them to ponder, and perhaps feel different experiences in their lives, and in their willingness to do so, have these thoughts and feelings conveyed through the engaged portrait. It has seemed important for me to be as fully present as I can with each individual, out of respect for their willingness to be present and vulnerable with me. I try to maintain eye contact and not remain behind the camera. I also may open myself up to sharing parts of my story as well, although speaking of that which is felt is not a request or expectation during this process. In this series, people were also given an initial copy of their portrait and asked to respond to it in writing. Their words have then been added and incorporated into the image. As this project has evolved, and continues to evolve, people have generously shared themselves with me and have had, by report, unexpected and at times meaningful experiences during the session, as well as in contemplating and writing about the image. I am moved by the possibility that being witnessed, as well as being a witness to others, makes us less alone in the world. Perhaps in viewing these pieces, others may be touched by some aspect of what they see and read, thus continuing the process. As Carolyn Forché writes in an article on the poetry of witness, from Poetry Magazine in 2011, “Language incises the page, wounding it with testimonial presence, and the reader is marked by encounter with that presence. Witness begets witness.”
I have intentionally worked not only with people I know well, but people I hardly know, as well as people of all ages. The former, to take me out of my own comfort zone, needing to practice the statement on one of my favorite coffee mugs, that “Life begins when your comfort zone ends,” and the latter out of sheer interest in how people of different ages will engage in the process as well as how they make meaning of their life experiences.