Monday, October 26, 2009

Deb - Stories of Survivors of Suicide

Kris (from a previous post) put me in contact with Deb, another suicide survivor from Helena. Deb lost her husband to suicide 14 years ago this Wednesday. I sat down with her at the cafe she and her husband started together, the No Sweat Cafe in Helena, on Saturday night. The intimate, family-run cafe has a no cell phone policy. With this policy, Deb invites people to come in, sit down, and enjoy each other and the good food. As she shared the story of her husband Ron and their life together prior to his suicide, the fact that the memory of his death is still painful was very apparent. Ron also left behind five children. Deb spoke of the pain each of them has experienced, but also of the strength and beauty each of her children has developed from their pain. We chose to do the interview and portraits in the cafe because it has been a source of healing and connection for her and her children. As she shared memories from her 25 years of owning the cafe, she pointed to various things of significance around the room. In many ways, she raised her children here - bringing them early, fixing them breakfast at the cafe before school, and seeing them walk through the door after school was out. She still has the article that was written about the cafe's opening (at which time they only had two kids). Even though the article is yellowed with age and has clearly been handled, at times with greasy fingers, Deb says this is just the way Ron would have wanted it.

I appreciate each person who has been willing to participate in my project by inviting me into their lives to be interviewed and photographed. I have learned so much and I've been inspired by the strength of each person. At this point, I believe I have just one more person to photograph and interview. One thing Deb mentioned still sticks out in my mind. She said that she doesn't want to give power to the "secrecy" of suicide that many cling to. She says the real power is in sharing and removing the stigma from those who have experience suicide loss and from those who seek help for emotional pain. Another important thing I brought away from my time with her is this: she says the more she expresses gratitude for the good things in her life, the better she is able to deal with her loss. She says that as she expresses her thankfulness to God for even the tiniest of things each day she feels a weight lifted from her.

Siobhan, Part II - Stories of Survivors of Suicide

During the same visit to Helena, I met with Siobhan again. The one year anniversary of the death of her sister, Deirdre Eitel, is just around the corner (next weekend). Siobhan has said that the past couple of months have been particularly difficult as she continues to cope with the loss of her sister who she affectionately called "Dede" or "Deed". In the first image, Siobhan clutches a pillow that Deirdre brought back from Pakistan for her. A photograph of her and her sister during their college years can also be seen over her right shoulder. In the second photograph, Siobhan holds a glass and metal box that contains the ashes of both her brother (who died in a car accident), and her sister. The box is decorated with special photographs from their lives. As the anniversary of the death of her sister approaches, Siobhan said that her family is planning a walk to spend time remembering and honoring Deirdre.

Kris, Part II - Stories of Survivors of Suicide

I traveled to Helena over the weekend to photograph Kris & Siobhan again, as well as one new participant. It was a whirlwind trip with three portrait sessions, but I'm pleased with the results. I was also happy to be able to visit Kris & Siobhan in their homes in order to get more personalized portraits of them. If you remember from a previous post, I photographed them the first time in a studio setting with a simple black backdrop. The images I choose for the final project will largely be determined by which images go well with the body of work as a whole.

Here are a few of the images from my time with Kris. In the first image, the cloth that her friend Dierdre brought back from Pakistan is draped over her chair. A small glass bead is also visible hanging in the window. This glass bead was made by a friend and contains a tiny amount of Dierdre's ashes. In the second image, a portrait of Kris made by a local artist is hanging above her head. This piece of art is very special to her because she is wearing a hat that Dierdre made for her with the design of her dog running around the top of the hat. This picture reminds Kris of Dierdre's gift which represents the thoughtfulness of her dear friend. Since she no longer has the hat, this drawing holds a special place in her heart. Kris is also wearing a t-shirt from the Jim Bridger trail run. Deirdre was incredibly encouraging and supportive in helping her as she started running. Kris remembers times when Deridre, an incredible athlete, would run back in 10 miles just to bring snacks to Kris as she finished up a run.

Friday, October 23, 2009


Today's session with Julia was focused on creating a few more portraits. In case you missed it from a previous post, Julia lost her father to suicide about a year and a half ago. In these photographs, she chose to include some handprints her father had made as a child. I also photographed her with the last jar of apple butter that remains from the supply her father made and her father's guitar. Be sure to click these to enlarge them. For some reason the colors look all wrong on this page and they look somewhat fuzzy here. They'll look much better if you view the larger version. Thanks for looking!

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Another portrait session last night! This time I photographed Scott, who lost his brother to suicide when he was in his 40s. Some of Scott's best memories from his brother's life come from a trip to Ireland they shared for his brother to trace their family's genealogy. When the bad days come, he tries to dwell on the positive memories from this trip, or good memories of them picking on each other as they were growing up. Scott has also had the extra burden of dealing with the trauma of finding his brother's body. On days when he feels especially bad, he loves to come home and see his dog waiting for him, happy to see him and ready to comfort him.

Scott is very adamant that more people need to talk about suicide, especially those who have experienced a loss. He feels that suicides will not be reduced until the topic begins to get more exposure. Scott thinks it's critically important for those who are suicide survivors to share their experiences, which is one of the main reason he shares his own story.

Monday, October 19, 2009


This is Julio. Julio is spending a year in Bozeman as a Americorp Vista volunteer with Montana Mental Health. He has a degree in psychology and his focus is suicide prevention. His determination to help prevent suicides came after his own personal experience with loss - that of his cousin. Prior to moving to Bozeman, Julio lived in San Francisco and worked with the suicide hotline there, and he also met a suicide survivor "featured" in the controversial film, The Bridge, documenting suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge. Part of Julio's work as a Vista volunteer includes writing grants for various suicide prevention projects. One of these project proposals is to get the 272-TALK number on billboards around the state, particularly in rural areas. Julio has also spent time passing out fliers and gun locks on the MSU campus since guns are often used in suicides in Montana. One thing he mentioned tonight really stuck out in my mind. He said that there's really only one thing we have control over in our lives: the decisions we make. We can choose to get help when we need it and we can choose to live, even if our circumstances make it difficult.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I visited with Carol for the second time yesterday. We worked on a few more portraits including some different items this time. In the first image, she clutches Laura's Bible. After Laura's death, Carol found this written on the first page inside the Bible: All that happens to us first must pass through the sovereign hands of God. Finding this has been a huge comfort to Carol and she says that this saying is something she holds onto in life. It was also a huge comfort to her knowing that Laura felt this way about her own life.

In the second image, Carol is sitting in the breakfast nook of her kitchen, an area where she loves to spend time. I have to agree, it's so bright and open! This area is decorated with her study materials and photographs, including a photograph of her with Laura (on the far left edge of the image). The last photograph shows a close up of that image with Laura in the middle.

One of the things Carol has learned in losing her daughter to suicide is that everyone's experience is different. Everyone needs to grab onto something in order to survive such a significant loss. She chooses to hold steadfastly to her faith in God and her relationship to Christ. After losing Laura, who struggled with an eating disorder and depression, Carol has come in contact with many college-aged girls who have also struggled with eating disorders. She feels she can learn from them as well as offer something to them. Although some people can be very insensitive when it comes to a suicide, Carol has also connected with many others who have approached her with a similar experience of loss to suicide.

Experimental Prints - Playing with Toners

So I'm unofficially auditing an Experimental Photography class this semester. This basically means I get to choose which classes I go to, I don't have to do or turn in the assignments, I don't have to pay for the class, and I don't get credit. BUT, I can do any of the assignments I want and participate in labs. Fun times. Last week we played with toners in lab including selenium, bleach and sepia, copper, and iron blue. Here's a print I scanned (not a great scan since my home scanner sucks for stuff like this) that I bleached, toned in sepia, then toned in iron blue. Unfortunately, the iron blue toner bath had a ton of prints in it so it didn't tone evenly. But, I still kinda like it anyway...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


This is Julia. She lost her father to suicide in March 2008. She says that she has really started to deal with the loss her dad and some of the issues they had in their relationship within the past few months. In that process, she has relied on her own faith and growth in her relationship with Christ to begin to have compassion for her father, his life, and what he went through. She has been looking back and reflecting on things in her life that she believes God strategically placed at just the right time in order to help her heal.

I photographed Julia in her room where you can see hand print plates that her father made as a young child (the blue ones hanging on the wall) and her own pink hand print she made as a child. I also photographed her in the little apple orchard in her backyard. Her father made apple butter from these apples so they evoke a special memory for her.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Caroline, Part II

I met with Caroline again last night for a few more portraits and a little more interview. She talked about how when she attended a healing service, she realized the need to go "public" with her pain. In other words, she realized the value of not hiding her feelings and seeking help from others, and also from God. Caroline mentioned that people often don't want to talk about suicide if they've had some experience with it in their own lives and they've not dealt with the feelings yet. She believes it has been a healthy experience to be open with and to deal with her feelings after the loss of her ex-husband to suicide.

In this session, I photographed Caroline with a drawing she made as part of an art therapy session. She says the drawing represents where she wants to be (and what she is moving toward). The drawing represents peace and an ability to roll with the changes that occur in her life instead of having any little life change derail her as they did right after her loss. I also photographed her with her dog, Trixie, who was named by her ex-husband and who also was a big help during her grieving process.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Forever Family Show @ the Exit Gallery

Our photography show, Forever Family, has now closed at the Exit Gallery here in Bozeman, MT, but here are a couple of photographs from the show of Tessa Lykins & I at our reception on September 30, 2009 and an image from my half of the gallery on the day we set up (Sept. 20, 2009). Thanks to everyone who came out and showed their support for our work! It was truly a celebration of our work and also a celebration of family!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lith Prints from Holga Negatives

I made my first lith prints today from Holga negatives I made last summer in Greece. I really LOVE this process and I think the images work well with the lith development. I hope to experiment with this more in the future!

Monday, October 5, 2009


I recently pulled my Holga back out just for fun. I really love the square format! While walking around Bozeman last week, I took a few images to finish off a roll of color that had been in the camera for awhile. These are just a couple of images I scanned from this wonderful little plastic camera.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What can we do?

As you may know from reading my blog, I am currently working on a portrait project involving those who have lost loved ones to suicide, or "suicide survivors". Along with the distinction as "The Last Best Place", Montana also has the distinction of consistently having one of the highest rates of suicide in the country. As I interview people for my project and consider the great loss of lives to suicide, I wonder if there is anything that the rest of us can do. You hear some say look for this sign or that, but in reality, the "signs" may not be recognizable. What do you think? Is there anything we can do? What's the best way to go about making it known that help is available and that there can be a future beyond the dire circumstances in which people find themselves when they decide to take their lives? No one really likes talking about suicide. It's a yucky word full of dread and despair. It makes us uncomfortable. We cannot let the stigma attached to those with mental illness and to suicide in general prevent us from making an effort to save lives. Please respond and let me know what you think. Thanks!

Siobhan - Suicide Survivor

This is Siobhan, who lost her sister of Dierdre Eitel to suicide in October 2008. I photographed her this past weekend during the same session I had with Kris (see the post below). This is one of the first images I captured of Siobhan with a favorite photograph she brought of her sister. We didn't spend a lot of time photographing during this session, so I look forward to our second visit when I visit her in Helena. Despite the especially deep grieving she has experienced during the past couple of months, she enjoyed the interview and portrait session as part of the healing process.