I was in a time of personal transition and found myself sitting in a pool of questions. I wondered why I had to work so hard for things and why there always seemed to be different forces of resistance. It’s true I had overcome some pretty tough obstacles, but was left feeling quite exhausted by the uphill journey. Ideas of creating a balanced and meaningful life as a mother, artist, partner, and individual began to occupy quite a bit of real estate in my head. So I began talking to other women…and the flood-gates opened.
Women laughed, unleashed, cried, and shared with me. It felt like all I had to do was barely scratch the surface, and feelings and stories seeped through their pores. Frustrations and struggles, joys and victories. I was caught off guard by how openly women spoke to me, even if I had just met them, about their experiences as a woman in today’s workforce, military, their own homes. I wondered if women just needed a good listener to sit across from them, but it didn’t seem that simple. Women needed to be HEARD.
This project was birthed out of curiosity and intrigue about the female spirit and her experience in today’s world. As I explored the idea of what it means to be an empowered woman, and if that’s even how women feel, I was struck by one continuous theme: STRENGTH.
I was blown away and inspired by the amount of strength women house within their spirits, and how generously they share it when given the opportunity. Women undergoing chemotherapy still making lunches for their kids everyday and listening to their girlfriends’ latest life news. Widows who are struggling to put food on their table still encouraging their neighbors to have faith in the outcomes of life. Teenagers that are getting bullied for being different still determined to pursue their own dreams. Shark attack survivors that still want to competitively surf and always have a smile on their face regardless of losing a limb? Yep, that too.
This group of 21 photographs was taken over 12 months. Each participant selected chose her own word(s) of empowerment to represent her journey, and ultimately represent all women.I think I can speak on behalf of the participants of this project (whether they were photographed or not) that we all feel more connected to ourselves and to each other than before.
It’s not that we are anti-man (in fact we LOVE the men in our lives!) – it’s just that we are proud to be part of the tribe of women. So when our jobs, health, relationships, or society in general knock us down, we can borrow courage from ourselves or each other to get back up. And we may even have something to say about it when we do.
March 4, 1943 – March 19, 2013
Christina Jessee worked as a mother, grandmother, and loving caregiver her entire life without receiving a single paycheck. She committed her life to raising three amazing daughters, including Amy Jessee, her adult daughter living with cerebral palsy, whom she cared for until the bitter end.
I had the honor of shooting Christina on Thanksgiving day, 2012, just before her battle with cancer came to a head. She knew her word (”Beyond”) immediately, and was very clear about what she wanted out of the shoot that day: she wrote in cursive on her left hand, and asked me to duplicate the word in my writing on her right hand, and she didn’t want to look at the camera. When I asked her about the meaning of her word “Beyond”, she said, “There’s life beyond this illness, whether it’s in this lifetime or not.”
We should all hope to age with the style and spunk of Christina Jesse. She wasn’t perfect, and spoke freely about that. She knew her strengths and faults, had accepted both but wasn’t focused on either. She knew she was neurotic about her nails looking perfect…and they did always look perfect. She didn’t hide her obsession with clean white sheets, which her friends and family tell many loving and funny stories about. To say she was proud of her newfound freedom and courage to rock hippie braids everyday in her late 60s is an understatement [insert her daughters’ eye rolls here]. She was honest about the intense struggle of raising children and keeping a marriage together. She relentlessly bragged that her grandchildren, Colin, Lauren, Jack, and Riley, were the smartest and most amazing children in the world. She giggled about how much more she loved her husband, Ron, with every passing day. Her daughters, Gina, Amy, and Jenefer, were her world.
This project pays a special tribute to the tribe and spirit of Christina Jesse, a woman who lives “Beyond” this world now.