I am pleased to introduce to you a special guest today, Julia Forsman, a photographer from England whom I met several years ago though our stock photography co-op. Julia is a master storyteller through her documentary images, which often seek out life’s poignant moments be it through her wedding, lifestyle or personal photography. Her love for her subjects comes across in her imagery, which I’m sure you’ll see in her words and photos shared with you today.
When I was seven my parents adopted Daniel, a baby with downs syndrome, and two years later, they adopted another, Brendan. Their reasoning for this move was that the boys would not feel particularly unusual and would always have each other.
During the most intense phase of the Covid pandemic, I was not able to see much of my brothers despite them living only minutes away from me. My worst fears centered around them, and I cried with relief when they were fully vaccinated.
A few weeks ago, I was able to stay with Daniel and Brendan while my parents went away for a few days. It was such a joy for me to go and slot into their lives and be present in their day-to-day. I also saw first-hand how fast this past year has aged them. Their stature is diminished, their thoughts more repetitive. Daniel especially moves far less surely through the town in which he has enjoyed great independence for much of his life.
I started my week with them determined to photograph everything. This was quickly pushed aside in favour of eye contact and sharing moments side-by-side. The pictures I did take are precious, and it gives me great pleasure to talk about them with you today.
This windowsill is beside the front door, and the holy water from Lourdes is here to bless those leaving the house. This practice of my mother’s feels even more poignant these days.
This is my brother Daniel looking into the same mirror that was here when I lived in this house. I have a very strong memory of walking into the bathroom to see a young Daniel, maybe around 10, examining his face. He asked me if his eyes were different than mine. I had always been curious about how much he thought about our differences and was interested in what he saw when he looked at himself. It’s beautiful to see him, decades later, in the same mirror.
Every week Daniel takes everything off this windowsill in the bathroom, cleans it, and carefully replaces the shells and shampoo.
Daniel and Brendan spend a lot of time in the garden my Mum and Dad have made. The high foliage is good for finding a pocket of peace.
Daniel often sits at this table reading and using his computer. I took this while we sat together eating pastries.
I photographed the details of their rooms. It touches me that many of the things they still like and have kept are from our childhood together.
Daniel spends a lot of time out and about in the town. These days he sometimes looks bewildered as he navigates his day. Here he is waiting for a bus on the other side of the street.
I feel such a mix of emotions as I photograph him, and I can see his mix of feelings in the pictures.
My brother Chris recently bought Daniel and Brendan new suits, and they put them on to show me. While I was taking these pictures, Brendan was telling me about a recent trip he took. He tells me it was “the best”, but that it was hard to be without Daniel.
One of Daniel’s and Brendan’s favourite things to do is to perform songs. This has been an integral part of every celebration for as long as I can remember. I love that repeating much practiced movements allows Brendan to set aside anxieties and Daniel to feel confident about his next move. Here they are dancing to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
These precious moments spent with Daniel and Brenden will remain in my heart forever, and I’m so glad I was able to capture a handful with my camera on our days together.
I can’t resist sharing one last picture of my brothers with you, taken with Mum and Chris in the same garden more than 30 years ago.
Thank you for joining me today,
Julia Forsman, A Rock and A Soft Place