I was raised on stories I didn’t believe but wanted to. Fairy tales and family histories that changed with every retelling. Through empty roads and conversations around kitchen tables, I learned that every moment is both a discovery and a loss. The facts of our lives become history until we have only pieces of memory woven into a personal mythology.
My grandmother, Tutu, had a stroke in February of 2015, at the age of 92. Four months later she told me that she could no longer laugh or cry, but that she still had a universe of thoughts inside her mind. For this woman of passion and chaos, a house was never enough space for all of her paper sculptures, her pianos and violins, her inventions and ideas. Now she sits in a chair in her daughter’s house, surrounded by beige walls, her mind filled with emotions and desires she struggles to express.
When I was a child her life existed for me as a series of unbelievable tales: training as a concert violinist in New York and drawing maps during WWII. Building a house in southern California out of barn doors and stained glass windows. Intentionally burning toast every morning. Befriending movie stars and opera singers and getting married four times to three husbands, but raising five daughters on her own.
At 30 I realized the stories were real. Without knowing it, I spent three years retracing many of my grandmother’s dreams – from New York City to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Adventure is her legacy.
These images, captured during my travels to San Miguel, are part family album, memoir, poem, and prayer. In the high desert, all of our masks and facades are scoured away in the wind and the dust, washed clean in the afternoon rain. The land here is made of light. It is sunbaked stone and agave plants and women emerging from their old lives like butterflies into the sharp sunlight.
This is a map of my search for my family’s history and my own home. The photographs show the expansion of a life, of becoming part of a world more vast and fantastic than the books that fed my childhood dreams. But pause and reverse, see the images backward, and they tell the story of a life that now turns inward, contained within four walls. And the universe of her mind. My world is now the one expanding, while Tutu’s becomes ever more still.
Tutu passed away on December 26, 2015. I was incredibly grateful and honored that I got to share this work with her before she died. Her response was everything. "Thank you for remembering."