The Light of Day

In Home, Memory-keeping
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One of the silver linings of self-isolation is the time it affords to learn more about ourselves. In unexpected and strange situations like this pandemic, we long to see meaning in everything. And sometimes finding that meaning requires us to rewind and study the past.

There are things about my childhood that I supposed would never see the light of day. Family secrets, deeply ingrained for generations. Protected by seemingly impenetrable walls, constructed with blocks of control and deceit, fortified by distorted thinking.

What happens when children grow up scared? I learned to be vigilant, always scanning the environment for signs of problems. I found safety in following the rules, trying so hard to be good, nearly perfect. I learned to pretend, to lie if need be. I buried my pain and put a smile on my face. Never truly at home in any place.

As an adult, part of my healing has come from revisiting the small rural town where I grew up. With this series of photographs, I allowed myself to experience the emotions that I’d put on hold because they were too overwhelming to feel.

Making these pictures helped me to reframe my growing up years and bring them into balance. I flip through the pictures, like the pages of a calendar, and feel connected to who and what matters to me.

The messiness and tenderness of being alive. I try to understand my personal history, in the light of the day, before those recollections fade.

This series of photographs is my second journey—exploring the bittersweet struggle of holding on and letting go. So I can move forward.

“Life must be understood backwards, but lived forward.” —Søren Kierkegaard

~Donna Hopkins


  1. Such a beautiful post Donna, and your images are luminous. Do you ever listen to Dani Shapiro’s podcast called Family Secrets? It is a deep dive into how secrets shape a life. Thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Lucy, I’ve admired and respected your work for years, reading every post in this space. Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. And, I haven’t heard of the podcast you mention, but I will certainly look for it now! Even now, I don’t spell out the exact nature of my family secrets. It seems in some way disloyal to my family, or maybe too hard to explain. It’s difficult to imagine unless you have lived it. But the pictures help me to tell the story and see the beauty even when there was sadness and fear.

  2. So often really good photography requires an element of bravery and this essay showcases your brave spirit beautifully. Congratulations!

    • Hi Tara! Congratulations is just what I needed to hear! For so many years, I pretended that things were fine, when they were not. I would love to lay claim to a brave spirit, but the truth is, I just couldn’t go on without acknowledging the simple facts of my childhood. Now I can let that go and embrace all the joys of life!

  3. The photographs alone would have been beautiful, but your writing makes them even more beautiful.

    • Thanks, Kiki. To be honest, I did think about posting the photographs only, or maybe with just a quote or a few lines. It’s really hard to talk about family secrets. There is some sense of betrayal in talking about family pain, where love and fear are all mixed up. But, I’ve come to see that unresolved issues keep resurfacing until they are dealt with, one way or another. I am grateful for photography as a healing practice. Thank you!

    • Michelle, You are like a guiding light for me. I read your posts and I read between the lines, too. And I see your bravery as you teach your children bringing them into young adulthood, make a life that includes art and yoga and gratitude, and share it all with us. Thank you for reading!

      • That’s so kind of you, Donna. Thank you for reflecting that back to me. Sending you a big hug… xo

  4. Deep and meaningful…I can relate to your words, and always Love your beautiful photography.

    • Beverly, You and I both use art as a way to experience life more deeply. It’s not often you make a friend for life online, and yet here we are, connecting through pictures and making our way. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Staci! I’m honored to be here.

  5. Donna, This is such a beautiful and vulnerable post. Honoring the messiness and tender side of life is both arduous and sacred. I feel privileged to witness both your photos and your words. Thank you for your courage to share this.

  6. Your words and images are a beautiful marriage, Donna, even when expressing messiness and pain. I imagine there to be more journeys ahead, as this learning of holding on and letting go takes a lifetime. The process of documenting it all seems to be therapeutic . xo

  7. I relate to your words a lot. Your photos are beautiful… healing is hard but you are so brave for undertaking that journey.

  8. Donna, what a brave, beautiful photo project. One that allows for catharsis while sharing vulnerability through images. Your words complement the images beautifully. Thank you for sharing. xo

    • Thank you, Holly! You’ve touched on something I often struggle with. Just how to best combine words and images. When can a picture stand on its own? I’ve been trying to take stand-alone photographs, but I often seem to need a string of photos to tell the story. And words, too!

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