a year between friends

In Art Projects, Collaboration, Conversation, Creating, Inspiration, Life
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My husband had an almost-family relative named Uncle Wallace. Uncle Wallace was not really his uncle, but rather the brother of his actual uncle. He was included in the family by extension and everyone adored him. Uncle Wallace lived a colorful and adventurous life having been a meat inspector in the veterinary corps of the US Army in World War II. He worked in the hotel industry, making his way up to management. Uncle Wallace was fairly famous for having seen Franklin D. Roosevelt’s third inauguration as president. Into retirement years, Uncle Wallace continued to work part-time as an evening janitor for the local JC Penney’s Department store. He was a strong proponent of keeping busy and active. Though he never married he had a lady friend (or two) and lived to the ripe old age of 99 years old.

At Uncle Wallace’s funeral, I was struck by several surprises. The small country church was packed to the point of standing-room-only. The visitors were from all ages and walks of life. And though the event was respectful, there was no mourning. In fact, everywhere I turned people were laughing and smiling and sharing stories. When his dear friend gave the eulogy, she revealed the secret to Uncle Wallace’s joyful life. He never stopped making friends.

I have taken this lesson to heart. There is, I believe, a myth that new friendships cannot be established in adult life. We know that it is easy to make friends in college. And young parents flock together around school events and plays and teams and games. We socialize with co-workers and serve alongside friends in community programs. But as we age it’s easy to let our circle of friends close-in and even close-off.

I’ve made it my intention to continue to seek and offer friendship as I grow older. This is how I came to meet Kate. I saw her photographs exhibited in a local art gallery and something in her work resonated deeply with me. One day, I ran into her at the gallery and took the time to tell her how much I admired her work. I felt an instant connection and followed up with an invitation for coffee and photo-talk. Fast forward a year and here we are, friends collaborating on a photography project. Uncle Wallace would be proud!

I take a photo and send it to Kate. She takes one in response. Back and forth we go, a conversation that grows a friendship.

Sending notes back and forth.

July 4, 2020 — Let’s get started!

Hi Kate,

I’m excited to start our back and forth project, but I respect that you might be deep into other work. I can wait—haha! First of all, I’m almost scared to send the first photo. Maybe it will be like making pancakes—where you always have to throw out the first one or two! I don’t know whether we will want to just let the pictures speak for themselves, one after the other, or whether we might want to write a single sentence, short paragraph or even a line or two of poetry to go along with each other’s photo. It seems we should leave the images untitled so as not to bias each other as we springboard off of each other’s work. I do think it would be fun to come up with a name for the project. I don’t think we need to add deadlines or any rules. I’d like to approach this project with a sense of curiosity and fun.

Ideas? No pressure. It makes me happy to work with you.
xo, Donna

PS In case you’re up to start, I’m going to attach picture no.1 here!

July 10, 2020

Hi Donna! Happy Friday!!

Whew. So I gotta tell you. This was, in some ways, tougher than I thought it’d be. But also, even more enjoyable!! I absolutely LOVE the way it made me really consider your image, and think through the picture I wanted to make. What’s funny is, I made a total of four images, and the one that I ended up choosing was sort of an accident! But I’m also a big believer in the subconscious making things happen for us, and so in that regard I don’t think it was an accident at all. 🙂

Hope you have a wonderful weekend, and looking forward to our chat Monday afternoon!

Hugs, Kate

Considering project titles.

Working title, From Here to There. Exploring how change transpires through a sequence of ordinary moments. Appreciating the feeling of impermanence. And the beautiful possibility that there is a path from a bad place to a good place. Just because we cannot see the path doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Here is a fine starting place.

Imagining a finished project. And setting a goal.

July 15, 2020 — Is that your final answer?

Hi Kate, 

I happened upon a strategy that is helping me to decide on my favorite response picture (I often take several and I know you do, too). I am creating a mock photo book, or on days I want to sound smart, a maquette. I’m going old school with paper and scissors, a pencil and tape runner. Printing our photos using my laser printer, cutting them out, and pasting them on the pages in order. Adding in excerpts from our emails and a little of the backstory on my pictures, too. Maybe we will design and print a photo book as our finished project? Do you think we could keep this project going for an entire year?

xoxo, Donna

Making way for our project and our friendship in a year with lock-downs, sheltering-at-home, and quarantines. Meeting outside on Kate’s patio, 6 feet-apart, for conversation, coffee, and croissants. Phone calls and texts and more messages. Not just about the project, but about art and music and books and life.

July 21, 2020

Kate, I know it’s not my best technical effort but somehow it seems very real and very much about these times where we must make pictures where we are with what we have.

I’m attaching photo #7.

Hugs, Donna

PS You make the best biscuits!

December 6, 2020 – Photo 23

Hi Kate,

I had an idea of a response right away . . . I have a small collection of polaroid photos my Dad took when I was a kid, about 7 or 8  years old. There is one where we took a family vacation to Miami, Florida in the cold month of January. We were invited to stay with some nice people, Mr. and Mrs. Doolan, who visited my parent’s restaurant, Parker’s Crab Shore, in Colonial Beach. Anyway, we were feeding the seagulls—my father, me and a little girl who was the grandchild of our hosts. I have always loved this picture for a million little reasons. I knew I wanted to include the photo in my response, and I’m happy with the result.

xoxo, Donna

December 14, 2020 – Photo 24

Attached. 🙂

Time for roasted marshmallows later this week? Thursday is our last day of school until after the holidays, and I would love to celebrate soon! 🙂

Big hugs!! Kate

December 20, 2020 — Merry Christmas and Photo 25

Hi Kate,

I had fun with my response to your photo #24. The day I dropped off the cookies, that rainy and cold and dark day, I had been to my friend Teresa’s home to work on an idea. I wanted to take a photo of her playing her piano. I love her dearly and I love how much she loves music and that beautiful piano in her home. (The funny thing is she doesn’t play really well, but that piano kind of represents her longing and she gives it a place of honor in her home). Anyway, I got a beautiful picture . . . exactly what I had in mind. It’s grainy in all the right ways and it feels like a beautiful response to your picture — the love of music.


I admit that sometimes this pandemic and its requirement for isolation has felt like a relief. A kind of get-out-of-jail free card that allowed me to say No to social obligations and expectations. I’ve had time to step back and evaluate just what works for me, and that’s been positive. But I also realize that isolation can easily become hiding and avoiding which are only a few steps away from loneliness and despair. And there’s a long uphill climb out of that pit.

This project, From Here to There, is about more than photography. It’s about taking chances and reaching out and opening up. I’m always excited to see Kate’s response picture. Part of the fun comes from the fact that we do live in the same area, and I love seeing how she sees our home. There are so many directions to go and ways to link the pictures so they connect—in both obvious and not so obvious ways. And truly, I don’t think they need to connect at all—only that they be a response. And a response is often only a feeling, a whisper, a calling. Our responses are honest and authentic and they are a solid foundation for a new friendship. And with friendship comes optimism and hope.

Donna

10 Comments

  1. New or old friends, finding ways to socialize and connect has been so important during this pandemic and I love how you have found a creative way to do so. A couple years ago I formed a neighborhood book group. During Covid, we continue to meet once a month on my patio around the fire pit or another neighbor’s porch under propane heaters, even when it’s below freezing. We all agree that in many ways this coming together has saved us…even when we forget to discuss the book!

    • Susan, I love your realization ‘ “this coming together has saved us . . . ” I have similar friendships and I agree wholeheartedly. We don’t comprehend just how much we need connection until we are deprived of it . . . and that need can be the motivation to reach out to sustain or make friendships. Connection and creativity are interwoven so that even the simple act of picking up the camera is made easier by knowing someone cares. Thank you always! And I’m loving your recent series of images,too!

  2. Donna, this is wonderful on so many levels. I appalled your bravery and your creativity, and how the project grew into something so meaningful.

    • Hi Cathy! Thank you, but it’s not bravery as much as blind faith. I’m always afraid to impose or overstep or offend (results of a long story and a difficult childhood). So I sometimes plunge ahead before I can talk myself out of things, before fear roots itself deeply. In other words, I act before I think! I know – not always the best strategy! But really, I circle around, overthinking, and doubting. I am amazed how beautiful life can be if I just get out of my own way! Haha!

  3. Oh my goodness! How lucky we are to see your friendship growing and the fruits of your creativity. Thank you so much for sharing these snippets with us. It inspired me on yet another dark and rainy day in London.

    • Hi Kirstin, Even though I am grateful to have a few very dear lifelong friends, I often long for friends who share my passion for photography – and that’s where ViewFinders comes in. I am grateful for the creative inspiration I find here – and for women who really “get” what it means to see the world through the lens of a camera, in a beautiful democratic fashion, where everything and everyone has value.

  4. Donna, this is an amazing project and I can absolutely envision a book at the end of it. I’m reminded of one of the first photo books I purchased, “A Year of Mornings,” which was a 365 project completed by two women who struck up a friendship online and took a photo every morning. I love the way you and Kate took a concept and turned it into something very workable and unique. I’m so grateful you and I met and became friends. You inspired me the first time we met and continue to inspire me each time I visit your website.

    • Hi Nancy! Wow, I can say exactly the same about you! I’ve had such joy exploring your collection of images on Flickr – each one beautifully crafted for a fine art, painterly feel. But it’s really the subject of your photos that speak to me. Each seems to represent some longing . . . or some deep appreciation for what we have right before us. Can’t wait to see more of your work! And maybe there will be a day in the future when we can meet up again in person!!

  5. Oh I love this so much Donna. What a great way to develop a friendship and make a connection. I’m a life-long letter writer plus photographer so this really speaks to me. Thank you for sharing snippets of your correspondence. I’m a senior and must also add that I have more new friends in my senior years than any time in my life and I call many of these lovely people some of the best by far.

  6. Hello Diane! It’s a pleasure to meet you! I popped over to your photo journal before writing this reply so that I might get to know you a bit. What a treat! In only a short visit, I can see that we have much in common. Your post on forest bathing was just the inspiration I need (truly, even though I love nature, I have a difficult time “seeing” the pictures there – in moss and ferns and trees). And I see that you are a letter-writer who loves Black Wing pencils. Me, too! I’ve subscribed and I’ll look forward to future posts. So nice to make a new friend today!

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