Sometimes things just happen that are supposed to happen. Every once in a while my career can feel like a job. Pay the rent, order the products, fix the computers, etc…. Then I get a call from someone like Shirley that really sets me back on course and I fall in love with why I became a photographer in the first place.

8 months ago, Shirley lost her husband in an accideent. Although she is energetic and positive, there is that part of her that needs an outlet. When she called and told me about her situation and the project she envisioned I was instantly on board and gracious that someone would trust me to help them in this way. 

Below is the article Shirley wrote a few months back that explains much better than I can what this project is about. You can view the outcome at the end of this post.

Reposted from Shirley’s Blog July 14, 2009

Grief Counseling

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been working on a “processing project;” to explain what this is for everyone out there, it’s a project that I purposely choose to work on that helps me to emotionally reconcile the death of my husband. I’ve completed one such project so far, this one is the second. I don’t know how many of these projects I will need to complete… it’s one of those “I’ll know when I get there” things. For all I know, I’ll NEVER be done reconciling the death of my husband. But in my gut, that doesn’t strike true for someone like me. I know myself pretty well by now, and while right now I am still processing… I sense that one day I will be at peace with the event. One day… not quite yet.

So this project… it’s a photograph. The intent of the photograph is to “capture my sadness” in the wake of losing the Bunny, with the idea that I can move past it. The photograph will let me look back, and reflect, and remember what these emotions felt like – freeze how they feel now – which might sound a bit counterintuitive to most people. How can I move past what I can only describe as emotional devastation by looking at a picture representing all of those negative feelings? Because with all things negative, they are the best opportunities for growth. Those negative moments are the most defining in terms of who we are, as individuals. This photograph will also help me remember that despite things happening that effectively dropped a shroud over my eyes, I did get through it. I WILL get through it. I will remember all the pain, all the sadness, all the doubt, loneliness, tears, grief… and through the support of those people who love me, through the patient watchfulness of the time that passes, and by keeping some small spark of hope alive that there is a continuing purpose for my life, that God is NOT done with me yet… I’ll make it. I’ll make it to that future point – that one I feel in my gut, but don’t yet see reflected around me. Blind faith tells me it exists.

The point of this photograph isn’t even me – in fact, one of my requirements is that it doesn’t look like me. I’ll be dressed as a fairy (yea, one of those mystical creatures), wings and all. But I am the physical manifestation of my emotions (thus, the sadness) – the point of the photograph is a locket. It’s a special locket, one I had made out of the Bunny and my wedding rings. Our rings were originally handmade by a metal craftsman using an ancient Japanese technique called mokume gane – it has the appearance of woodgrain, but it’s different metals swirled together. Back in the samurai days, mokume gane was used in parts of the handle of the samurai’s sword. You can check it out here:http://www.mokume-gane.com/.

Today, my best friend Liz took me to Sephora to have my face made up by a professional makeup artist, to give me some ideas on what I might like to do for my photograph. I tried on my dress last week (which didn’t fit – I refer you back to my earlier post, The Victoria’s Secret Story, and you will understand what part of the dress is giving me trouble). My wings were also handmade, and I had a scare that they were lost in transit when UPS mistakenly updated their computer tracking which indicated that they had been delivered to my front doorstep (which in fact they had not) – it was a devastating blow to me, not for the wings themselves, but for their significance with regard to this project. Miraculously, they DID show up the next day, and my faith in the universe was restored. I’ve been working for the past several weeks with a local photographer, collaborating on the upcoming shoot. I chose Joe because I happened across his website, and his images had such character… I sent him that first email, told him my story, and he just “got” it. Sometimes you just have to put stuff out in the universe, and the universe in turn helps you out. It rewards you. I was rewarded in finding Joe. And he’s a family guy, so he could understand the emotions I am describing when I shared the loss of my husband. Maybe not identify with them – people really can’t, unless they’ve been through it personally – but he could understand the love and attachment involved in creating a life with someone, something you fully expect will last forever.

I’m sure when this project is completed, all of my friends will absolutely HATE this picture… it’s not often I show my “sad” face, and I’m working for this one to be absolutely representative of my inner self – probably the saddest I’ve ever been in my whole entire life. But it is part of who I am, and the bridge to the next phase of my life, the one with “just Shirley” in it. The Shirley that doesn’t need protection. The Shirley who isn’t afraid to live her life the way she chooses. The Shirley who recognizes the value of happiness, and the price that is paid for it. And when that phase begins, I’ll be ready.



Thank you for allowing me to do this project with you. I hope that it was as inspiring and helpful for you as it was for me.

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  • Jeff - Wow – amazing story from an amazing woman! I know Shirley and all she’s gone through this past year, but didn’t really know what this was going to be all about until I read this and saw the images. From her description of what she was hoping to achieve, you truly captured it in your photography! Great work Joe! And thanks for being part of our friend’s healing process!

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