Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Gina Elliott Proulx, Photographer, Tells Her Story

I went to college much later than my peers. I was in my mid-thirties as I sat in visual journalism classrooms at the University of South Florida, in St Petersburg. I'd like to say that the reason I often overthink things is my somewhat recent foray in higher learning. But the truth is, I've always spent more time within than without. Which is odd, because there are many who consider me gregarious and outgoing. But those who spend more time with me, know that only comes in fits and spurts. I spend just as much alone time -- recharging from it, as I do actually swinging, metaphorically, from the lamp shades. 

I never knew why I was the way I was, or even clearly identified it, til I came to understand a very specific definition of a word: Mediation.  I say a specific definition, well, uuuh SPECIFICALLY, because there are many ways to define things. In my case, mediation refers to how I interact with the world and people and events. I always put something between my personal firewall and the environment at large. As a young child, I used pets as my talisman, between me and an often violent and dysfunctional environment in my home. I look through old photographs of me as a child, and it's hard to find me without some furry friend in the frame. 

Later, as a teenager and young adult, it was music that provided my bridge to understanding my surroundings. I carried music, and a camera with me as I served in the military. I even managed to earn a living within my passion, as a civilian radio broadcaster for several years before I finally found the ability to pursue a college education. And throughout all that, I also had my camera to mediate new relationships and experiences. 

Marriage and parenthood came later than most for me, as well. And like every aspect of my life, it too has been well-mediated, again through photography. In fact, the waters of adulthood and parenting are just as challenging to me some days as that of my early days of shooting, where I had no idea what to do, or what the definition of 'good' might be. 

Parenting a child with almost invisible special needs is just hard enough to call it 'difficult' at times, and just easy enough so that not everyone realizes you're doing it. Like a camera, there are days that it's possible to put the kid and the gear into 'automatic' and roll through a pretty productive day shooting, literally and figuratively.  

Then 'those' days crop up. The ones where the meter readings are fuzzy, and it's hard to know where to set the camera's controls for the best hope of capturing light the way you see it in your mind's eye. The best plan is to always try to measure what one can see, and hope for the best exposure outcome. That's what my cameras have taught me, anyway. 

I photograph anything I can, whenever I can. What I am exposed to in life is constantly changing. From time spent  overseas, where I photographed ancient ruins, to later years shooting live concerts sometimes with real rock stars, to the day to day life of parenting and marriage: I'd be lost trying to understand it all, without my mediation devices.. My cameras..  It's my therapy, in a very real sense.

Later years have brought more opportunity to mediate my life as a parent through photography, as I professionally document a summer boys camp in Maine.  I've learned the most about myself, and how best to parent my child through the many weeks I've spent photographing that camp each summer. It may be that all my camera handling has led up to this photography experience now -- time will tell. After a childhood best described as one to be glad that 'one survived,' I now can see what I missed, and am thankfully able to give it -- ironically, also through my efforts in photography, to my own child.

It's a simple concept really -- but very important. It's how to play.  Sure, we all played as kids.  I still play, but not like some. Through my lenses, I've watched and learned from children and my own child, at camp -- what it means to truly let go, and PLAY.

It is ironic that I watch and learn this silently, alone, and typically at least 200mms away, is not lost on me. Letting go, as many already know, is the key to connecting with people, whatever the age. My son is learning how to do that now, as a child. It's my hope and expectation that the skills he learns through this summer-long camp in Maine will be the foundation I never got, how to BE within the confines of PLAY. I believe it's one of the bedrock skills of happy adults.  

I will continue to work on this project about the importance of PLAY for the next several years. Camps are an integral part of my photographic exploration, but not the only venue. Live music still holds my best personal window into how people can lose themselves, and find themselves all at once, also a kind of play. Nature also suggests this possibility. I plan to manifest an openness about seeking out more ways to visually speak about the importance of play. And through the mediation of my cameras, I hope to understand more about myself in the process.  

This is Week 34 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing Gina's story today. To see more of Gina's work and connect with her, visit her Facebook page.

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