“How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar. “
– Trina Paulus
When you begin a new artistic project, you often have people in mind; personalities, situations, life histories and experiences that inspire you. When I began the Butterfly Project earlier this year (see first post here) I knew it would begin with my friend Mala but I also knew I had met other, beautiful, strong, and courageous women who I hoped would step forward to be seen and photographed this way. Ramona was one of them.
We had met through a mommy group when our kids were much younger. Our exchanges were brief and surface-level for the most part, for no particular reason other than situation and company. I knew through friends that she was going through some stuff, a tough divorce, transitioning to single-motherhood, but didn’t know the details. We weren’t close enough for me to reach out and ask. I don’t think we even exchanged phone numbers or emails. But, of course, we became Facebook friends as one does these days.
What I remembered about Ramona was her wild, red hair, and her raw beauty, full of freckles and expressive eyes, and a smile that just caught you off-guard, like you were seeing into her. Maybe it’s because she was going through stuff that took away the layers of polish we slap over ourselves when we go out into the world. She was naked, knotty, wood; you could see the grooves of living etched into every expression.
When Ramona stepped forward after my session with Mala, I asked her to fill out a questionnaire to understand what had driven her to want to be involved in this project and she told me about her life growing up with an alcoholic mother.
“I grew up very entitled and felt I deserved a charmed life,” she told me. “I carried these traits into adulthood and married an alcoholic who turned drug addict.”Eventually she had to walk away from her marriage, her home, the life she had built, with two children in-tow, her entire vision of how her life should look, shattered. And then slowly, brick by brick, rebuild her sense of the world, who she was and what she wanted.
“It is beyond enlightening. To have lost everything, been through my greatest fears at one point, and survived. It has made me a better person, a better mother, a better friend. The other side is beautiful. I feel wise and complete,” she wrote.
She is now blissfully, happily re-married, and in a blended family that lights her up whenever she speaks about them. But even as I entered her gorgeous home to photograph her, she clutched her cell phone, a worried expression on her face as she talked patiently to her mother whose addiction continues to negatively impact both of their lives. Life is beautiful for her now, but not perfect.
“I have learned to stop and remind myself “this too shall pass”,” she told me, referring to life events that can take you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. “I have also learned to bask in the simple and quiet good times as we all know they are usually brief. For me it will always be another court case, drunk mother episode, family member diagnosed with cancer. Life is consistently hard and I find comfort expecting it. Now, my biggest self love/self care is talking my emotions out with my husband. His touch, listening ears and wise words always bring me peace I when I cannot find it on my own.”
In brainstorming with Ramona about her session, water continually came up as a metaphor for cleansing and rejuvenating the soul. So we knew we had to do something with water. Something that gave her that same sense of emergence, and yet something that tapped into the vulnerable emotions we wanted to express to tell her story. Inspired by Adele’s recent Rolling Stone cover and a white robe hanging in Ramona’s master bathroom… we started there.