Monday, September 28, 2009


As I continue with my survivors of suicide portrait project, I am amazed at the strength and perspective of those I photograph who have lost loved ones to suicide. Yesterday I met with Kris who lost her dear friend, Deirdre Eitel, to suicide last fall. I've been communicating with Kris via email for a couple of weeks now but it was nice to actually meet her face to face. During our emails, we chatted about what she wanted to use to represent Dierdre in her image and what she wanted to say through her portrait. I love that this project is a collaborative effort, giving the person photographed a sense of ownership in the creation of the image.

Since Deirdre was a photographer and also someone who worked on some very important projects, I especially want to create beautiful images. I loved that Kris had a lot of creative ideas ready for me! For our first session, she wanted to include a beautiful cloth that Dierdre (or Dede as her close friends and family called her) brought back from Afghanistan. Before her death, Dierdre was photographing in Pakistan & Afghanistan for Greg Mortenson's Central Asia Institute. So, this cloth she brought back as a gift is very representative of Dierdre to Kris. Kris also wanted to be nude and in a fetal position under the cloth to be representative of the vulnerability she has felt through her loss of such a dear friend. These are just a few images from our first session together. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I had the opportunity to visit with Katie for the second time this morning. She has been very gracious and open in sharing her story of loss and her ideas of how to reduce the suicide rates in Montana. Our great state, nicknamed "The Last Best Place", had the number three spot for suicide rates in 2006 for our country. Katie was born and raised in Montana and has lived her entire life here so she has a lot of ideas about why our state consistently has high suicide rates, including the traditionally hard life in Montana and an individual spirit that she feels may make people less likely to seek help when dealing with mental illness. Katie also shared today that she not only lost her son to suicide, but also her mother and grandfather. In this image, she shows a memory collage about her son's life that was created by her daughter and granddaughter.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


I just returned from the first session with the second participant in my suicide survivors project. I spent just a little bit of our time together tonight capturing some initial portraits. This is Caroline who lost her ex-husband to suicide. In these portraits, the object she chose to represent her ex-husband are her wedding rings.

Caroline talked about how much of her healing process has involved accepting all of the emotions and feelings she experienced after her loss - anger, pain, and especially guilt - and realizing that she personally was not responsible for her ex-husband's decision to end his life. She has also had to deal with whether of not those around her would be accepting of all the emotions she was experiencing.
Understanding that we are not in any way responsible for a loved one's decision to end their life is a difficult process. She mentioned how many people who were in her ex-husband's life realized, only too late, that they had never told him how much they thought of him or how much he meant to them. To me, this reminds me to let those in my life know that I love them. It reminds me that the word of encouragement or compliment that I may hold back for whatever reason should freely fall from my lips. Even though no one is responsible for another person's decision for suicide, we may never know the effect that a positive word may have on someone's life. Under our tough exterior, we are all fragile creatures. Take a moment to encourage those around you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Senior Portraits!

I was able to switch gears a bit over the weekend from the seriousness of the suicide project to photograph a senior from Bozeman High School. This is Heather, a very bright and mature seventeen year old! Her home in the mountains provided a beautiful location to photograph and the golden morning light was pretty awesome, too.

Suicide in Montana

Last Wednesday, I met with the first participant for my project that involves photographing and interviewing those who have lost family members to suicide. Each portrait will include something that is representative of the lost family member. Over the course of the next few months, I plan to make at least 2-3 visits to each participant so this is just one of the very first images. I'm excited to see how this project will develop over time, to hear the stories, and to see how this project will be used to hopefully make a difference in someone's life.