from Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning by Elizabeth Partridge


‘You put your camera around your neck in the morning, along with putting on your shoes, and there it is, an appendage of the body that shares your life with you. The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.’

I spent last weekend at a Children’s Literature conference. I went there to sell books and in return I was able to sit and listen to the most of the presentations. Being there amongst so many talented artists and with people who share my same passions and interests just blew me away. We slept in dorm rooms and each morning after breakfast we gathered together for singing, followed by call & response poetry. It was as if I had closed my eyes and traveled back in time. Back to the land of summer camps and impromptu communities. I felt like I belonged to this group. It was such an intense feeling— one so fierce it surprised me.

My favorite part of the whole weekend was listening to Betsy Partridge talk about her experience putting together the images for her book* on Dorothea Lange. She said she worked hard to get in some photos that had never been published. That alone was reason for excitement, but then I discovered that Dorothea was her godmother. Ms Lange has always been a personal hero of mine and here I was in a room with someone who knew her intimately. It was like time suddenly folded into itself like an accordion. Listening to Betsy talk while images danced on the screen filled me with such an overflowing happiness. Dorothea captured a multitude of images in her lifetime and many of them she championed, even though her publisher insisted they weren’t worthy of attention or publication. I listened quietly took it all to heart. I think we all need people to inspire us to hold our truths and just Believe.

The whole weekend was actually spent thinking, talking, and musing about history, the past and how they affect our tomorrow. Tobin Anderson discussed the theories of relatability and estrangement. Brian Selznick read to us from Dandelion Wine and compared time to taffy, displacing our notion of it moving like an arrow. Jack Gantos spoke to us of his igloo made of discarded biographies from the library. And Shane Evans pumped me up with the thought of focusing on one idea and practicing (holding it close) for 41 days. This could shake up my new year in the best way possible.

Like everybody I know, I struggle with my own wants and needs. I’m often conflicted about wanting to stay at home in my pajamas and knowing that I really need to be out in the world having these experiences. There’s no doubt that they feed my soul and nurture my creativity. Even just these few days spent in the company of such amazing individuals has given me so much to ponder and has provided me with new ideas for my Work in Progress. When I sit at the keyboard I feel like these characters are revealing themselves to me little by little and it’s my job just to get it all down on paper. Last week when I was in such a funk, a dear friend said she hoped I could find something to nourish me. What a revolutionary thought! Don’t we all need to discover what inspires us, that little something that makes us feel incandescent. Climbing out of this funk has been a slow process, while getting back to basics with words and images has been invigorating. Now I’m reframing, refocusing, reinventing… I’m taking Dorothea’s words and holding them close. Grabbing my own hunk of lightning while I still can.

*Betsy’s book is a companion to a documentary on Dorothea that you can stream. I hope you’ll give it a look:

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