I first came across Amy Grace’s photography through a post I saw on Little Bellows. I remember thinking, “My goodness these photos are amazing!” It was at a time when I was just getting back into shooting film personally again and seeing her images was just the boost that I needed to confirm my love for the medium. Her writing is poetic and reads more like lyrics to a song your heart already knows how to sing. She shares from somewhere deep, somewhere raw. I love that.
It is an honor to have Amy featured on our blog today; sharing a glimpse into the lives of her and her two precious littles and what unplugging means to them.
I know that your medium of choice is film. Tell me a little bit about making that decision when it comes to capturing your children’s everyday moments.
Film makes me more careful – with their time and mine. It gets me OUT from behind the camera and into our lives. It is that filter, that extra pause that makes me think without overshooting. Film is discriminate. You don’t get fifty shots to choose from and edit to show what you want to show; instead, you get the truth. I am all truth, and want my kids to be too. And in that vein, it is spontaneous, permanent, prone to accidents of the positive and negative varieties, something you can hold to weigh down time. Film means I don’t have to sit at my computer, refining memories. It is beautiful, Velveteen Rabbit real, and so aptly – unplugged.
It is art that you capture, there is no other way to describe it. When I’m viewing your blog it’s as if I’m standing in a museum and pondering over each image before me. It draws me in, makes me think and then think some more. It’s not always easy to capture little ones and yet, you make it seem so easy. Do you put a lot of time into thinking about your shot?
First of all, thank you for your generous assessment of what I do. I have always considered my photos love as art. Whether I get it right or not, in my eyes or anyone else’s, it comes from such a pure place in me, the best in me, so I take it personally…and let it go just as easily. Everything I do is from the gut, from the hip. I intuit as a rule, in everything, even when I am thinking critically. So do I spend a lot of time thinking about what I shoot or write? Well I am always paying attention, trying my damndest to be awake. And I try to keep my eyes on my own world, instead of other people’s work. So that when something arises it will be revelatory, at least in a tiny way. It will be a record of how we were, magic and mess as one. It will be a record of me too, even if it’s a code I will read years in the future. I don’t share most of my personal photos of my kids lately. It may be a phase, it may be forever, but they feel so close, so vulnerable, like turning us inside out. I think about them because to me, they so often are the shot.
What are some of your favorite activities to do with your children? What are each of them passionate about?
We love being together. We are loose and free and natural and show up as ourselves. We are all gentle people, careful, and watchful. But there is laughter bouncing off the walls in our crazy, deconstructed house every day. My daughter just said last week that “we could speak in inside jokes”, which was poignant and descriptive of us. Don’t ever try to beat us in charades. Since we moved to Marin County, there has been so much to explore. Beaches and forests and towns that would take ages to burn through. We are in a state of wonder that we get to live here.
My daughter is a natural and gifted visual artist. She takes me somewhere else with her drawings, and she in turn teaches her little brother so much, if only in the act of making, all the time. Paper and pencils and markers and ink could keep them going for years. And she reads and reads and reads and stays up way too late, falling in love with books that reach beyond her years. And she dances like Martha Graham. My son is an old soul, free spirit hybrid who is finding his voice in the kooky observations he shares like poetry I would kill to write. He loves building and being outside on our adventures in the redwoods. He loves stories and cooking and music like I did when I was a kid. He is counting down the days to five, when he can learn guitar. For Christmas he’s asked Santa for a microscope. I love him.
The kids and I have been living in an extreme construction zone for over a year, honestly, with no close end in sight. We share a single, makeshift bedroom, with mattresses on the floor, one closet, none of our stuff. And it has been hard and heaven. The closeness is all we need, the talking, the questions, the answers, the listening. Everything is game. There is no need for a plug. Our electric bill was twenty nine dollars last time – which says it all.
Mother, writer, artist… just a few of your many roles. What do you do to unplug? What inspires you?
Not enough. Really. I have been flying solo with the kids, and without a real support system, so I have been awful and negligent of the time and space a grown woman needs to recharge. But then, who really gets that kind of “me time”? It is a rare and lucky thing on this planet. So I do my best to try and be kind wherever I go, to steal away the beauty of those little exchanges in the world that make us feel connected and understood. I unplug by finding joy with my kids. I breathe them in and it is better than any massage with aromatherapy I’ve never had. My greatest love in the whole world, without a pulse, is a wonderful book. So I read like a maniac, and hope I pass that on to my children, that fierce love for words and thoughts that give me insight into the worlds and minds and experience of other humans. My piano has been in storage for about a year, and I miss it, as it was always the thing to loosen the taught wire that stress makes of me. But I still sing all day, and feel lucky that my daughter is picking up that very same love, and that harmonies make all the sense in the world to us.
I never know what will inspire me. When my son was a young toddler, and he would get edgy, we would watch “Tree of Life” together, the Terrence Malick film. It did some kind of magic to both of us. People inspire me, in their trying and hurting and love and truth, stories in real life and fiction, the feeling of love that hooks in my throat, music made with passion.
If you had an entire day to spend with your family unplugging, what would that look like?
An entire day to spend unplugging would in dream world, be spent on an airplane to Europe. Seeing the world, being together to make sense of it, with fresh air and no schedule would be heaven.
Share with us a recent experience that you and your children shared while unplugging.
We love to drive out to Point Reyes, which by some miracle, is essentially up the street. About a half hour drive, really, but you enter another world on the way. It is quiet and vast and wild and soft at once. We are not the kind of family who brings chairs and toys to the beach. We just bring ourselves, a blanket, and open eyes and hearts, walk on the dunes, run, get wet and excited and terrified at the Pacific. We have spent many a precious day out there, driving back at sunset, tired, salty and content.
You have captured so many beautiful images, it’s hard to have a favorite. If you were to have a favorite image, which one would it be and why?
This one is the one. She is ethereal and magical and soars. She comes from somewhere else and I see it in this photo. This is what it feels like to know her.
Do you and your children have some favorite books? You know what I’m talking about, the ones that get asked to be read over and over again. If so, which ones?
We are a reading people. When you read you learn empathy, insight, quiet, independence, and anything you want. I wholly agree with John Water’s very adult quote about getting a sense of people and whether you could connect, based upon their bookshelves. My daughter has been in the land of solo reading since before kindergarten, but some of my favorite read aloud books for her were Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle In Time” series. There is so much mystical truth in those books. Right now my little boy is obsessed with the exquisitely illustrated “Atlas of Adventures” by Lucy Letherland, only in press in the UK I think. Other favorites of his are “Once Upon An Alphabet”, Oliver Jeffers, all of the Usborne books, “Zen Shorts”, John Muth, “Flotsam”, David Wiesner, ALL of Mem Fox’s and Shirley Hughes’ books…but it could go on infinitely. But it’s quality in our house. Reading junk to me is the equivalent of watching crummy television. We have but one life, and it feels good to fill it with good things.
Do you have a favorite quote? Author? Poet?
My own favorite authors or books…this year’s best was “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt. And upon finishing I devoured her other two books. Another favorite contemporary author is Colum McCann. “Let the Great World Spin” is a masterpiece in my book. And Anne Lamott, who actually lives in my small town, is such an honest, truthful rebel. I love poetry, and my taste is diverse, Rumi to Mary Oliver. Joan Didion describes what it feels like to think and feel better than any person I have come across. In our old kitchen, I had a printed and framed quote on the wall, “let the beauty we love be what we do”. I could recite that whole Rumi poem along with many others – ingrained in my heart since I was fifteen.
We know that unplugging is good for the mind and encourages creativity and imagination but lets be honest, electronics are awesome too and such a vital part of our daily lives. How do you find balance for your children? For yourself? Do you set guidelines?
First guideline, we don’t have a TV. Which is not to say we don’t watch anything. We have a computer, obviously, and we watch good movies. And not all rated G, saccharine stuff. I want my kids to know the world, the depth of it, what art looks like, what films can make you feel and think. My kids know that junk won’t work in our life, and are surprising and hilarious critics of pop culture. Neither or them has an ipad, though my daughter just got a hand me down emergency phone. She doesn’t keep it charged, and the last time I saw her get a text she rolled her eyes. It stresses her out. “I’m a real life girl”, she says, accurately. The kids have a once in a blue moon Minecraft session on my ipad. And in full disclosure and the beautiful spirit of honesty, I confess to being obsessed with “True Detective”, “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, and these days “The Wire” which I somehow missed, even having grown up in Baltimore, but only after becoming hooked on the “Serial”podcast from NPR’s “This American Life”. There, I said it.