I keep coming back to this photo. I remember that day, in Gilbert, Minnesota, in the Iron Range. I’m a girl of the Southwest, of the prairie and the plains, not familiar with the culture of the North, the taconite mines, and the rocky outcroppings that line Lake Superior. I was both local and outsider, Minnesotan and and yet not a northerner, familiar, and stranger. But one thing that ties us all together is community, family. No matter where I’ve travelled, thats something everyone wants, that’s universal - a sense of belonging.
Of all the words I could use to describe 2016, uneventful is not one of them. I’ve always been so self-assured and confident of my path - in life, in work, in photography - because I’ve had goals to work toward, things I’ve been passionate about, people I’ve loved. When I left Yemen at the end of 2015, I never thought it would be so difficult to find my path again - to find a new place, people, and story I’m passionate about - but it was. This was my year of exploration, personally and photographically.
It began in Georgia, wandering the mountains in a story for Mashable, on how Svans honor their dearly departed. With a grant from IWMF, I continued my project on former Guantanamo detainees and their lives after they were released, later published in a piece for Newsweek.
Returning to the Midwest in mid-winter, I spent more time with dear friends in Kyle, SD in a piece for Al Jazeera America on how the community is dealing with youth suicide, in particular of Santana Marie Janis. I first met Santana and her friends at a summer math camp and coming of age ceremony in 2014 - she is dearly missed. You can help support a community initiative, the Santana House, here. From there, my name-twin and awesome journalist Alex Baumhardt and I went north in a piece for Minnesota Monthly following Wilderness Inquiry and Kajoog, photographing Somali boys in their first winter wilderness experience.
After surviving the rest of the standard Minnesota polar-vortex winter, ended up in Mombasa for Harpers - profiling a former Al Shabab fighter, and his difficult time returning home, despite government promises to re-integrate Kenyans who renounced their actions. To escape the coastal heat, I headed inland to Ethiopia for Refinery29, photographing a talented group of runners from Bekoji, a town at 9,000 ft elevation that’s produced some of Ethiopia’s best runners, and Girls Gotta Run, the organization that helps keep them in school while they train.
Back in Minnesota (Can I still call it “home” by now, even though I’m away more than half the year?) I went back to my roots for Time Lightbox, photographing one job of my youth, and something everyone should experience at least once, rock picking.
For the rest of the summer, I spent nursing in a psych/ER unit in Duluth and photographing on Minnesota’s Iron Range, where discovered I can be a foreigner even in my own state. Coming from the cornfields of the Southwest corner of the state, it was fascinating to see how our ancestors (many Finns in the North vs many Germans in the South) have impacted our personalities and interactions even today.
I spent September in Germany, exploring how lovers have been separated by conflict - a story, just like theirs, that is still in-progress.
I returned to Minnesota in October for the harvest. Though I grew up in a farming family, that part of our lives had always seemed ancillary to me in high school: busy with sports and studies and other teenage things, I never felt a strong connection to the land. Strangely, that has changed the longer I spend away from the land where we plant, nurture, and harvest each, where there is a season for everything.
Since late November, I’ve been in Iraq, where I finally discovered a project where I can combine my two passions - photography and healthcare - photographing medics treating civilian and military casualties during the Mosul offensive. It’s a new year, and I still feel in-between, and a bit uncomfortable, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Making new work, shaping new stories, finding new ways of storytelling - is always a process. Comfort easily leads to complacency, and that’s never a good thing. So here’s to another year - whatever it holds.
I’ve never been one to watch series on cable or online (yes, Outlander is an exception), mostly because I don’t have a TV when I’m traveling. Strangely though, in this harvest season visit home, my mother has me watching Chicago Med (how many medical professionals actually like medical shows because they’re unrealistic? Just me, apparently). It is engaging at times, a complete melodrama at others. But last night one exchange caught my attention.
Psych attending: “Do you know the etymology of psychiatry?”
Psych resident: *Blank stare*
Psych attending: “It means the healing of the soul.”
I don’t not like psych nursing, but it was never my first choice. This exchange put it in a completely new perspective.
Another thing that can be healing for the soul is just watching the cycle of life. Going back and forth from Minnesota, I’m not there every day to see the crops, but I check in from one month to the next. The crops go from lil’ corn babies to fully grown stalks to dried and ready for harvest, and somehow it is comforting to see the cycle of birth, growth, and death, knowing that at least that will continue when everything else seems unsteady and in flux.