It’s been a whirlwind week for this soon-to-be Denver Portrait and Family Photographer! If you’ve been following my blog, you know that after a year of traveling a lot, I’ll be settling into my new city starting this month! I’ve been trying to balance business tasks with packing and even tending to one of my dogs who had unexpected surgery this week. The mere thought of moving has actually slowed down the packing process for trip one of two and I couldn’t really figure out why at first, as I’m so incredibly excited for my next chapter.
I took some time away from my not-packing a few days ago for some shopping and to see a movie. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always loved going to the movies. Just like staring at a good photograph, you can escape into the imagery and feel so much, so fast. I chose the new release “Lion” and so happy that I did. It brought out so many emotions in me and amongst other things, helped me understand why I’m so scared of major change, even though I consider myself an overall adaptable person. You see, I have something in common with the main character of the movie.
“Lion” is the remarkable true story of a young Indian boy who gets separated from his family and ends up getting adopted by an Australian family. He grows up as an Aussie, but wonders if the family he left behind in India is still out there looking for him. While attending college in his early 20’s he makes it his mission to do the impossible and find a needle in a haystack, as he didn’t know the correct spelling of his hometown, nor did he ever know his mother’s name. I will leave the rest of the movie a mystery (and greatly encourage you to see it), but I will tell you how the movie reminded me of my own life.
I was not born in India, but I was born overseas in Brasil. And like the main character in “Lion”, I was born into severe poverty but raised in a lovely and loving middle class home in a country a world away from the one I was born into. I did not get lost on a train like the little boy in the movie, but rather I was put up for adoption by my birth mother. I grew up not knowing much about my blood relatives and frankly, not caring that much until I became a teenager. At that age, my curiosity grew.
When I turned 21 that curiosity had grown so much that I decided to take a chance and locate my birth family. But it was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. My adoption documents were incredibly vague and my birth mother’s name was as common as “Mary Smith” in the United States. After serendipitously meeting a Brasilian man with connections, I handed over my adoption documents and kept my fingers crossed. I didn’t know how it would even be possible to find my relatives on such little information, but I held onto blind faith.
I will never forget the phone call I received a mere week later. I was asked by my new Brasilian friend if I was sitting down. I wasn’t, but did. And that’s when he said something that would turn my world upside-down: “Mark. This morning we found and spoke to your birth mother.” Speechless. And that never happens.
In the following months I was able to teach myself enough Portuguese to communicate with and get acquainted with my birth mother (and eventually birth father) over the telephone. As it turned out, I also had a tremendous amount of siblings (eight) that I never knew about. Near daily phone calls (and eventually Skype) would prepare me for my first trip back to Brasil since the early 1980’s. Shortly after my twenty-second birthday I hopped on a big international airplane from Miami and was greeted on the other side by my long lost brother.
We hugged…we smiled…and looked at each other in joyful disbelief. Then we got in his car and he drove me to one of the biggest moments of my life.
The door opened and we fell into each other’s arms.
And didn’t stop crying for a long time.
I stayed in Brasil for five weeks. I was passed around for family member after family member to be introduced to me after years of living far away. I remember feeling like some kind of local celebrity or legend. Or at the very least, the latest subject of gossip.
When I returned to my home in Miami, I knew that I would never be the same again. I believe that I went to Brasil to try and find my “identity”. I thought I’d find a bunch of people just like me and that I’d somehow find myself in them. Instead, I learned a very valuable lesson: regardless of the way I was raised, or the blood in my veins, I am just me. There may be influences from both families, but I am me at the end of the day. Finding people that looked like me did not solve my life the way I (and so many adoptees) thought it might have.
Once I realized this, I didn’t really feel the need to go back to Brasil. I got a lot of questions answered in five weeks and slowly but surely, I lost touch with most of my blood relatives. We see each other’s posts on social media, but we feel far more like distant friends than family. And yet oddly, when I was watching “Lion”, I immediately flashed back in a flood of tears to arriving back to my place of birth. More specifically, I first flashed back to the above photographs, which connected me to other visual memories stored in my mind, followed by incredible emotion in my heart.
One, seeing “Lion” helped remind me that while I am far from defined by my adoption, being relocated in my first days of life still seems to push a button in me. I am often the first one up for the idea of something completely new and exciting, but every time I am leaving my family (or a family made up of close co-workers), I experience tremendous anxiety, fear and dread. I find myself procrastinating as much as possible to avoid the goodbye, which symbolizes abandonment at my core. It is a massive life lesson for me to remember that everything in my subconscious would have told me for years that I’d never see the person who brought me into this world again, but I did. It’s all perception…and lots of fear and wrong assumptions…building over the years.
A new 2017 goal is to jump towards opportunity even before I can see a safety net and assume that a family that I don’t even know exists, yet will be there for me to love once I land. And that brings me to number two: the family of Denver photography clients that I’m leaping towards without knowing yet, but somehow know exist out there.
I want all of them…whoever they are…to understand just how powerful a photograph is. I really don’t think about my adoption or my birth family or Brasil very much because I’m more focused on what’s in front of me and what’s ahead. But just like at the movies, when I look at the photographs that I’ve shared in this blog I am literally transported instantly, in this case to another time in my life. Photography is so much more than about nostalgia…it is a way to keep the people we love alive, even after they're gone. And as much as many of us fear losing our loved ones, we often forget to think about those that we will leave behind one day.
I don’t know who you are. Not yet. But I want to photograph you this year. I want to help you exist in photographs so that one day, long after your time on this planet has come to an end, your family can pull out the beautiful heirloom that we created together long ago and say, “my mother…my grandmother…my uncle…my cousin…was so beautiful, weren’t they? I miss them so much…but somehow looking at this, it’s like they are still here...”
Now that this is posted, I'm officially packing up my car and heading to Denver for trip one of two. I have plenty of fear in my ear about doing so, believe me. I don't know how I'm going to start my business from square one once I get there, but I'm going to start the journey, anyway. And I journey on with confidence and courage in my heart, just like the warrior that I am...and so are you. To read more about my Family Photojournalism, please click here. And to find out more about the man behind the lens…and this blog…please click here. Go see this incredible movie sometime soon and find your inner Lion!
Until next time. Have a beautiful day.