You finished this trip several weeks ago, but is there any image that has stuck with you?
It is a visit to one family. It’s a girl, she’s eating soup that was made by her dad, and she’s 11 years old. She has ADHD. She is raised by a dad whose husband died. The dad was in the military. A gay man during the time of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. He adopted this girl from a family member. Now he’s in his 60s, and she is approaching young womanhood. They are eating pasta shells that he sautéed up in a pan with a can of tomato soup and a can of diced tomatoes. And that was what he calls “cheap soup.” There was nothing in that photo that belies anything that I told you as a back story, including the urn that he had next to his bookcase, with the rainbow flag over it, that contains his husband.
I left there feeling that I wanted her voice to be heard. I believe I felt that way because I didn’t see the pathway for that to happen. Sometimes being well-adjusted is not what you want. You don’t want to be comfortable with scarcity. So, the feeling that I had with that family was bittersweet. I love the fact that they had each other, and they weren’t complaining about it, and they formed a family. Yet I hoped that her voice could be heard so that she is the new face of our future.
How did your upbringing inform how you approached this project?
I would say that has fully formed the human being that I am. And so I’m able to approach a lot of situations in life with experience that allows me to just receive whoever is gracious enough to invite me into their life. That is much more important than any kind of knowledge of photography. Being human, being rich in lived experience, enables you to sit down at a table, literally and figuratively, and be present in an unconditionally loving, nonjudgmental way.
There is a focus on children in this project. Why did you gravitate toward kids?
When kids are there, they steal the show. I do love me some old people though. The beginning and the end of the life spectrum. But I think when you look at kids, you definitely see what we’re investing in. What those kids are eating, how they’re living, it is a real indicator of the future. You can see red or blue states, or left or right, but I don’t think anyone doesn’t come together in agreement that we all want to take care of our kids.
Food insecurity is a topic of national conversation. What is the subtext that you know to be true when you see those headlines?
There’s this idea that people have to deserve being fed, to earn their right to eat. In Covid, that has been laid aside and you have people from across the political spectrum showing up at food lines. There’s a moratorium on the shame and your virtue being tied to feeding yourself.
When I see those headlines, I want to keep it in the forefront of our collective consciousness that — just like the Great Depression — the people who are going to be the hardest hit by struggle have always been struggling. There has been a landscape of insecurity and economic inequity that has only been widening over the past decade.