It sounds simple, but we know it involves a million choices. Oversharing, weighed against lies of omission. The question of how, in what language, with what code. To strip it down or cover it with something sheer and beautiful. To show our best, or share our mistakes. Translate it, or coat the bitter with saccharine when we’ve run out of sugar. Muscle memory launched on new wings, grown from cracks in our spines. It can be as painful as it is freeing. It’s hard to start, until it’s hard to stop. It’s grace we make from scratch when our art aligns with our fear, and starts to sprint. Lets out a laugh when our eyes are still wet with despair.

How we frame the life we’re living like bullet trains running on prayers, broken and whole and waterfall spilling over. It is always in the middle, like we are. All of us. No matter the shape of our body or length of our resume, our number of followers or gallery shows, our confidence or thirst.

Creative double exposure photo of boy at beach and boy swimming
Creative double exposure of ski lift
Creative double exposure of people dancing

Our truth can feel like poetry, with sharp teeth, and bruised lips, and calluses on its feet. A mother’s weary hybrid stories of bliss, found on the last thread at the end of the rope, hanging by a pinkie. Art that shows this, describes it, shares it, turns a flat frame into something alive.

This is where our photos find their pulse. They’re allowed flaws and accidents and epiphanies. When we transform our desperation into anchors to hold us fast. Our survival stories, in print.

I believe we get better when we start telling the truth. Like chemistry, we feel honesty in our gut. It’s contagious. It heals us. It pulls us into a frame we would otherwise scroll past. Untouched scars in a fashion magazine. Bodies with mass and marks and history. Broken rules about focus and blown-out light. Real eye contact, from tired but awestruck eyes. The surprise of messy, spilling-over joy.

Creative photography of woman's head silhouette against sky

The truth doesn’t have to be literal. It can be far more beautiful than the space you’re stuck in. It can be something you imagine, pictures you layer like time, a new mirror to reflect your rich inner life. It just has to be your own.

Play and search and trip up until you find it. We’re all so tired, yet hungry to make new things. The truth is about finding a yes after a hundred “nos.” What we do next. When our too-expensive cameras break or get stolen, when hard drives crash without backup, when businesses or marriages fail, when kids grow up or get lost or struggle, when we lose our vision or outgrow it, when money runs dry, when love can’t clean up the messes anymore. It is what we can always do with our vision and a magic rectangle, no matter the camera, the dry spell, the aches we fight.

This is a force we can find and grow and let in. A decision to banish critics from all parts of our lives, and decide on our own, what wins. What our eyes love. This is the freedom we get to claim and make and share, no matter what.

Creative black and white photo of a girl's face by Amy Grace
Creative double exposure of boy in woods

Instead of turning the camera on what is most intact, I want to linger on what’s broken, and give it some peace and light. If you live in a tiny dark rental, go outside. If you think you hate yourself in the mirror, go find yourself in the world. If clients have gone to crickets, make pictures as a gift for someone who could never afford them, while you plan your next step. Push the shutter like you shoot from your hip. Find the treasure and taped-together beauty that we all are, and photograph it. We’ve earned it, now let’s prove it’s still there.

Be moths at midnight, without fancy flashes, candles only. Instead of syncing up our camera rolls with our highlight reels, let’s show the dark and the light. We live in that mix. All of us. Nothing’s more compelling. The surface tension is what draws us together, what holds our stories, what keeps us changing and interested. Bring your camera out when the air shifts, follow it and make yourself new.

Creative photography of children and shadows

Our truth can feel like poetry, with sharp teeth, and bruised lips, and calluses on its feet.

Creative photograph of girl in a field
Black and white image of a girl's face with wild hair
Creative photo of a girl's hair in sunlight

I want to hear about how we used the light from our lives blowing up, and brought the viewfinder to our eye, never flinching. That families can resemble war zones and that documenting can need a higher power to make sense anymore. That it’s not all perfect homes and vacations and celebrations, but real love and loss in the trenches. A thousand different kinds of lives, with a love of art in common, writing the rules as we go. That loss is something we can’t fit into a frame, but which we have to try to understand. Because it ignites our gratitude, and grows our empathy, and makes us care about each other and our work.

Creative photo of children at beach
Creative image of shadows at beach

Sharing what’s real allows the virtual stitching up of open wounds. The collective ones tattooed with invisible ink, ready to go permanent, to be seen. Photos make us commit. To something we couldn’t look past or hide away. To a feeling we couldn’t swallow down. To being imperfect and human and trying together.

Cameras can be microscopes, telescopes, X-ray vision, and tools for our greatest hope. They let us choose our focus. They’ve helped me reclaim years I felt were lost, and find ladders out of the deepest holes.

The way we believe in our pictures can be a new way to believe in ourselves. A soundtrack in line and light and color and motion. To make proof we weren’t just existing, but SEEING. No matter our level of success or recognition, we all know this joy, can share it and celebrate it together.

Creative photo of girl's hair

“Bring your camera out when the air shifts, follow it and make yourself new.”

Creative photography of crowd and shadows

Art is emotional rescue, to paraphrase The Rolling Stones. A reminder of your best when you may be feeling your worst. It’s the “and” in our stories. It’s the deep breath we take before we burn it all down and start again. It is the forever remix.

Photos are invitations into each other’s lives. We can accept them, give them out, let each other in. Be a family rather than a competition. Our pain can be a superpower in our art. Hard things can propel us into honesty. We burn the waste of what’s burned us. It’s fuel and energy, and insight and hope. A direct line to gratitude. It’s longing built in to every photo we find or make, the ache we reshape into answers. It will speak through time.

If you’re not ready to hear it now, let it rest; it will come back for you. It will gather the broken pieces with you, collect them and become a mosaic. We all want to stand out, yet we see so much trying to fit in. I see loneliness in this phenomenon — emulation as another way of reaching out. But we can’t mistake applause for community. The same urge that wants to keep you safe can free you. Flip it around, untie its wings, exhale.

Whatever you keep hidden, I promise you’re not alone in it. I promise, many of us will see its beauty. Go find it, and learn from it, and show us all who you are.

Photos by Amy Grace

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Click Magazine. Buy your copy here, or subscribe so you never miss an issue.

Truthful photography, Amy Grace