Friday, October 5, 2012

Digging Deep...................

Note: This was originally posted on Thursday, but I discovered later that the final version was not the one that got "published". In its place was a very early, unfinished draft. Blogger was having some "issues" yesterday. Note to self: write in a "Word" document so you can trust that when you "save", it's really saving.

This past weekend we performed what I have started to refer to as an "archaeological dig". Before we began I simply said, "we are cleaning out the basement". Little did I know what an impact that act would have on me.

A little background: We moved into our house in November 1995. I was working as a bookkeeper at a local photography store, my children were 6 and 8 and we had downsized from a large house in the foothills to a much smaller, older home in town.

I quit that job six months after moving even though one of the reasons for the move involved reducing my commute. At this time I had already claimed the basement as my own and had set up a workspace to hand color, do Polaroid transfers and eventually conduct business. Five years later we would add a room to the house and I would move upstairs and relinquish control of the basement to my son. Soon a drum set, Play Station and other objects young teenage boys require would fill the space. He slept in his bedroom, but spent most of his "at home" time downstairs.

It wasn't long after he went to college that I began using the basement as the official "I will deal with this later" space. In other words, a holding cell for objects I wanted out of sight.  The amount of "objects" inhabiting this space grew tremendously this summer. It began with the moving, once again, of my studio. Only about a third of what I had in my previous space would go back to my current studio. You know what happened with the other two thirds........."I will deal with this stuff later...."

Then the cleaning out of our children's rooms began. Both my husband and I experienced the insensitive disposal of items left behind in our childhood homes and vowed not to be those kind of parents. Come to our house for Thanksgiving and you are almost guaranteed to hear the story of how my husband's mother threw away his prized comic book collection that today could finance that electric sports car he has his eye on. The point of this being...............anything our children did not take when they moved out was carried down to the basement "for now".

Pretty soon the space was so full of "stuff" that you could not get from the bottom of the stairs to the other side without tripping over something. This was unacceptable on so many levels but we knew the only way to take care of this was to schedule an entire weekend for the project.

In the space of two days we took 92 pounds of cardboard to the recyclers, 12 cans of paint to the waste disposal site and 6 boxes of old paperwork to the shredders. We also made 3 trips to the Goodwill drop-off station and filled the dumpster at my husband's office.

Our children's belongings are now neatly stored in containers; ready for them to go through the next time they visit. Everything else has been put away, but easily accessible.

It was a lot of work, but so worth it! (There is not a "before" photo. That would have been too embarrassing!)

Besides the boxes and bags recently placed downstairs, buried deep in desk drawers, file cabinets and stacked containers were reminders of the evolution of my photographic journey. Not only did I find evidence of how drastically technology has transformed the medium, but a record of how my business grew and changed was also unearthed.

So what did I find?
  • A book on building a home darkroom. Something I did not need sine the rental darkroom was less than a mile from my house.

  • Empty film canisters.

  • My "portfolio" from when I thought I wanted to be a children's portrait photographer when I grew up.

  • A box of cookie tins featuring one of the first images I ever licensed to a manufacturer. 

In addition to all of the above, I found a lot of reminders of my years on the art festival circuit. Old postcards, labels for images I have not shown since Clinton was president, receipts for items I bought that I didn't really need, and tons of books on how to "market" my photography that I never read.

This is when the "reflection" began. If I could do it all over again, what would I do differently? For one thing, I never regretted my decision to abandon the idea of being a portrait photographer. 

Participating in art festivals created many opportunities and forced me to grow as an artist, which I am grateful for, but I do have a few cringes of guilt for all the times I was away from home when my children were young. (One kind of amusing find was a slip of paper addressed to "my beloved family" with detailed instructions and a complicated schedule that had to be followed precisely if each child was where they were suppose to be that weekend. My husband will never be accused of not supporting my career..................)

How I handled my finances tops the list of changes I would make if I were given the chance for a "do-over". I would begin by being less concerned about doing the best shows, having the best booth and having more than enough inventory. I made a lot of expensive mistakes during that time that still haunt me today. (See above......."receipts for items I bought that I didn't really need......books I never read......." I could go on, but I won't.)

Which brings me to the present......................I am seriously considering the possibility I may never do another festival again. I have been known to change my mind, so let me be clear that no decision has been made. However, if someone were to hold a knife to my neck today and force me to say "yay" or "nay", there is a good chance there would be some Pro Panels on Craig's List soon.

I don't have to make any decisions right now, but the cleaning of my basement freed up space not only in my house, but also in my head. With space comes clarity which usually brings change of some sort, so stay tuned.......................


  1. I relate to this very much... I am always wrestling with my space and my stuff... trying to decide what I truly need and what is just taking up physical and emotional room. What a great feeling to organize and purge such a large area!

  2. Thanks Stacey! Yes it does feel great! Good luck with your own purging!