Forgotten film

Today, while de-cluttering, I found two sleeves of photographs I shot with fuji film on a 1959 Agfa Optima camera that I found in Zionsville, developed and did nothing with. Most of them have a scratch across them and are light fogged (user error?), but they feel wonderful to me. I took most of these during the week prior to my graduation from IU last year.

2015 Seniors: Emily

I’ve known Miss Emily since she was in diapers. She’s one of the kids in a few fellow British families that we created a sort of extended family with here in the Indianapolis area. We have celebrated holidays together for as long as I can remember. 

This spring, she’s graduating from high school. And I was lucky enough to capture some senior shots and family photos to commemorate. 

the thing

“There are certain parts of video games, especially RPGs, where the player must level up before a boss fight or go around collecting potions and items and training. Like when you train your Pokémon before you fight the Elite Four. That’s what we’re doing. That’s what being 24 is about, I think.” - Eric Ellis, my partner who keeps me sane.

May is Mental Health Month. It’s hella difficult to talk about mental health. But the more people do, the more we can reduce the stigma, be more empathetic toward one another and take care of each other. Those are some of my goals with my photojournalism and with my time on Earth. I thought it was time to talk about my own story a little bit.

On Monday, I’m seeing a doctor again to try to get my anxiety under control. It’s been two years since I stopped taking medication for it and subbed in yoga. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of managing with a healthy lifestyle. But it’s time to ask for help.

It’s not because my 23 years of life have been especially tough—I have a stable, wonderful life with a great support system. It’s just brain chemicals and the lack thereof. It’s The Thing that starts as a cold feeling in my stomach and crawls into my throat. It convinces me to sleep instead of work on my photos after a restaurant shift. It tells me I should have health insurance by now or be paying back loans. I shouldn’t eat that. I’ll never make it in photojournalism. Don’t seek out time with friends. Sleep instead.

And I’m not nearly alone. It’s the most common health problem in my county. According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders affect 18% of U.S. population. They are highly treatable, but only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment. We’re afraid of the ramifications of diagnosis because it seems different from a disorder that affects other parts of our body. It feels like we should be able to just stop the feelings (or lack of emotions). There is a shame that accompanies mental health care, but there shouldn’t be.

Part of my recent struggle with The Thing has been adjusting to life after university. I crave a life of steady, daily photography, but I’m not there yet. 

In the months between internships, I’m working more than full time at a busy (delicious) restaurant and freelancing on the side. I’m not making pictures enough to quiet The Thing telling me that I’m losing my reporting muscles. The last time I worked for a daily paper was early January. It hasn’t been that long, but still I miss the teamwork and support. 

Journalists my age may not ever have steady careers working for just one client. And that’s okay. It’s actually exciting. But when the anxious part of me takes over, it’s hard to get my work done. 

Going abroad and working on my own project was a liberating privilege. I should have been ecstatic and filled with gratitude. And I was, but paralyzed by fear and the pressure I put on myself as well. I am proud of the work I did, but I know I missed out on making pictures because of anxiety. “You could have done more.” And since I’ve been home, the whispering has ensured my work on the editing has been lethargic as well. “If you just don’t finish the project, the failure will be more bearable.”

Some weeks recently, Liminal has been the only project I work on, and It’s mostly because I don’t want to let Eric down. This personal project has been immeasurably good therapy. It keeps me accountable and keeps me making pictures, even when I don’t want to. 

Creative jobs are just that: jobs. We need to go to work daily, regardless of if we have other jobs as well. Even when we’re exhausted. Even when we’re afraid of failure. 

“Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.” 
― Steven PressfieldThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

I won’t let my anxiety to stand in the way of the work I want to do. It’s not weak to ask for help or to admit all of this to whoever reads it. If anyone out there ever needs an ear or a hand, I’m here. Talking about mental health is important, and we’re just now coming into a culture in this country where it’s okay to admit to struggling with it. We’re fortunate—that isn’t the case in many parts of the world. 

Rock on, friends. Remember to be kind to one another and keep doing work that sets your heart on fire. Don’t be ashamed of working outside of the industry to make ends meet. Admire your peers work, but keep blinders handy to concentrate on your own path. And ask for help when you need it. 

“I am a tiger.”

Today I asked Kyung-ok how she’d describe herself. She said “I am a tiger. I can adapt to any situation. And I can show the world that I’m a little bit scary, too. I won’t ever give up.” She’s awesome.

She has had a rough few weeks. Her and her boyfriend have separated, money is short, school is draining and she’s helping a friend/fellow refugee through a low point in mental illness. Despite that, she keeps her positive attitude and determination. We’re becoming close, and while I miss my people in the States I’m really sorry that I have to leave in just two weeks. 

Young Defectors: Friendship

I have a lot of eating and transportation and interacting with technology photos. While I think a lot of that is just that it took a while to build trust, I think they’re also important motifs of refugees rebuilding a life in Seoul.

The fact that Kyung-Ok can go to school now and doesn’t have to play hooky to guard her family’s food is a huge deal. So is her food security, access to high speed, convenient transportation and mobile internet. She told me that in her village in the DPRK, her family was the only one around that had a television. It was black and white and the whole block came by every night to watch old Russian or Chinese movies. Now, Kyung-Ok torrents a lot of American teen flicks, action adventures from Vietnam, and comedies among whatever else she pleases. Among some of the titles we’ve watched together are Mean Girls, The Hannah Montana Movie and Wild Child.

While Kyung-Ok is my main source and she gives me great access, I’m also focusing a lot on her and Oh-Kyong’s friendship. They met at a resettlement camp. I hear a lot that it’s much harder to make friends with South Koreans, and their bond is really special. Oh-Kyong is a little more hesitant to let me into her daily life, but when she’s with Kyung-Ok she opens up a bit. Here are some photos of them.

Young defectors: Lunar New Year

I apologize for getting so behind in blogging! I’ll do a few posts to catch you all up.

I went to Changwon with Kyung-Ok (five hours by car, three by high-speed train) over the Lunar New Year holiday weekend to visit her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, a South Korean man. They welcomed me to eat with them and stay at their home, which was so kind. I brought them some fruit, as gift-giving is customary not only around holidays but whenever you go to someone’s home. Ultimately, my small token paled in comparison to her mother’s generosity, and so I’ve been getting Kyung-Ok and Oh-Kyong meals as my way of returning the favor.

Here are some of my favorite images of Kyung-Ok and her mother’s relationship and of the holiday weekend.

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