I often find myself being just the quiet girl with the camera and last night I didn’t mind a bit.
I may be known for my photography and my blog but at my core I am still just a 22 year old girl from a small town, no better than anyone else. No amount of exposure has made me any less sensitive or any less capable of making mistakes. I’ll never be good enough but that is what growing as a person is all about.
I was a teenager when I started my blog. It felt like a digital home that I could fill with all that I loved. The things I saw and felt that set sparks off inside me. Back then I didn’t know the ways in which it would shape me, the ways it would change my life. In so many extraordinary ways but in a few darker ways too.
My first taste of the dark side of blogging was a phone call late one night. It was a woman on the other end and she told me my boyfriend would leave me, people only liked my pictures because I was young, I was ugly and I deserved to die. I couldn’t sleep that night, I could only cry. I couldn’t hate anyone, not the men who’d abused me or the girls who’d teased me cruelly at school. Yet here was a total stranger whose voice dripped with hatred for me, and I was caught wondering if I deserved it.
The more I blogged the worse it became. I received hate-mail thousands of words long. Then websites filled with anonymous haters. In those first years I took it all to heart, labelling people’s issues with me as my ‘flaws’. I thought if I was good enough no one would hate me and so I needed to fix myself. I even felt guilty that who I was had caused people to feel so negatively. So I wasn’t quite as cheery or loving, I toned down my writing and confidence and I didn’t share as openly. It didn’t matter if I had good intentions or genuinely wanted to make the world a better place. Every time I shared anything my head filled with countless judgemental voices, picking it all apart.
I knew reading all the hatred was making me depressed but it was so littered with lies and assumptions I was afraid if I didn’t clear them up people would believe them. Words have influence, even when they aren’t true. When I became a young Mother the judgement grew uglier. People said I should have Alba away taken from me. Girls became my friends to try to get ‘gossip’ out of me and it became harder to trust people. When they contacted my friends and my family with rumours it was bleeding into real life and that frightened me.
I was embarrassed that I let it get to me, I am embarrassed even sharing this. It feels like I am looking for pity but I am not. I always felt like I was being weak. After all, didn’t I know deep down that all I had was the present and it only had to affect me as much as I let it? Didn’t I know that every single person could be torn to pieces, that not one of us is perfect? Didn’t I feel how much support and love surrounded me? It is a sad thing that if we don’t fight it, darkness can be heavier than light even when the light is so much greater.
I decided to stop reading the hate. I thought, let the lies and the gossip be. The people I want in my life will be able to see through it, and will give me a chance. I am not my past and I embrace my failures, they have taught me even more than my successes. If I am secure in who I am and the decisions I make, it shouldn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks. I do my best and be my best and that is as much as I can do. Have trust in me.
One day I was staying with my friend Zelda in LA. Her Father is Robin Williams and all her life she has had to deal with negative attention and gossip. She said to me “You don’t need to post about your life Nirrimi. You’re a photographer. You have a choice to not make it personal.” She was right and her words have stuck with me for years. It made me think about why I did blog the way I do. Why I choose vulnerability.
When I stopped posting solely about my photography and started sharing my thoughts an interesting thing happened. The emails I received were no longer short messages from people saying they loved my work and asking what camera I used. I began getting intense, deep letters from people who told me my honesty and perspective have had a lasting impact on their lives. That my words had gifted them courage to follow their dreams or that I had showed them the beauty in the world they had overlooked. My life lessons became theirs too. They are my reason.
I don’t feel angry at anyone who has set out to bring me pain. I know it sounds very ‘hippie’ but I feel like I do love everyone, because I know we’re all the same. We’re all making decisions based on the experiences we’ve had, all wanting to be loved and understood. I like to think that the people who do and say cruel things anonymously online aren’t fully realising the hurt they are causing the people they attack. As though they think we’re not as real as they are. There are many ways to justify hate but at the end of the day it is still hate. I feel that if you wouldn’t say it in the real world, don’t say it online.
Strangely sometimes I am grateful for it. It toughened my skin and helped me to let go of a lot of my ego. I remember reading the hate one day and thinking “if I didn’t know myself, I might not like myself after this” and that realisation made me question the way I felt about everyone. It made me think twice before I spoke badly about another person.
Though I have almost quit a few times, I have kept on. I don’t know what the future holds but I know I will always want to use the skills and time I have to do good for other people. I may not be solving world hunger or climate change, but it is something. I can give more and I will. This world (both real and online) is filled with too much darkness and it needs more light.
I have written this post as a call to action. Whenever you see unnecessary negativity or hate online or in real life, speak up against the hate with loving intention. Let’s make the world a kinder place.
Thank you for reading. I’m grateful that I get the chance to share my side. Here is a silly little video I recorded, filled with ‘ums’ and not at all eloquent (seriously, I can barely watch this without hiding behind my hands). But, hey it is me!
Stylist: Claire Hart
A hundred feelings, a hundred faces, a hundred places. I am living lifetimes inside single years. I am strong, powerful and brave. I am confused, alone and afraid. I am lost but I am finding myself. I have come so far but I still have so far to go.
I nurse my broken heart and broken dreams lightly, often forgetting they are there at all. I escape my past by embracing my present. When the dark quiet of night washes over the world nothing can distract me from my pain. But then the day comes and sets everything alight, reminding me of all there is to be grateful for. Everything is going to be okay, better than okay.
Sometimes in the middle of the night I will reach out for him and my hands will find no one. Sometimes I feel alone when I am surrounded by people because none of them truly understand me. Sometimes I am worried and I long for someone to hold me again and tell me they will take care of everything, that I don’t need to worry about a thing. But it is just me now and I have to be strong. There are times when my shoulders buckle under the weight but they don’t break. I’ve got this.
I look at him, remember studying his features with endless fascination, and I realise I see him through different eyes now. In some ways I can’t recognise him any longer. His arms no longer hold the safety they once did, his eyes no longer hold the affection. We are both different people now.
It’s strange how someone can be your world one day and almost a stranger another day. Some nights I would do anything to be back in our mountain home where I knew everything was going to work out, that our love was invincible and everlasting. In those moments it was, and the ending didn’t diminish its magic. But that chapter is long finished now, leaving space for new chapters to be written.
From my hometown we drive to Crystal Creek. On the way we pass a little produce stand and pick up some ripe fruit. We swim in the pool beside the waterfall, hot sun on our skin and cool water swallowing our bodies. We open pomelos with a pocket knife and the insides shine like little pink jewels.
We set up the tent in the trees by the water. From inside we watch and hear the waterfall and it makes its way into my dreams. When the sun rises I swim naked in the creek, pushing against the current. A thousand cold hands run across my body. I dry myself on a rock in the sun, and climb back into the tent to read a book and breastfeed Alba.
I should spend more time outside. When I am out there things are simple and clear. It is easy to be present. I will forget those nights I stayed up late watching Game of Thrones, but I will never forget the morning I was naked beneath a waterfall.
We drive to the beach one night. I bring a curry I cooked, a flask of hot chocolate and a picnic rug. Life has a cinematic quality. The kind that new experiences bring. I remember being here as a child, and now here I am with my own child. Somehow I am a Mama now, not a child any longer. Life passes.
Alba swims with my sister, who is no longer the quiet little girl I once photographed in the backyard, she is a teenager now covering up her freckles with make-up. My brother is here too. He is sad tonight, going for walks by himself and writing pages and pages in his journal and I think maybe I understand him better than anyone.
I swing on a swingset and when I get to the very highest point I close my eyes and imagine I keep going, flying out into the stars. I hear Alba laughing with my siblings by the water. In this moment I feel a slow sweet joy fill my soul.
I don’t remember if we flew or drove home. I look at these photographs and the notes in my journal to remember, but outside of these souvenirs this time is a haze now. I barely photograph these days, not like I used to.
Alba turns two. I wake up before her and marvel at her tiny face. The dark, sweeping eyelashes and the small pink lips. Her long fingers are like miniatures of my own. But despite the similarities, she is more her own person than I ever could have predicted. How could it be only two years since she took her first breath? She has already taught me so much about life.
I am thankful for birthdays as a reminder that time does keep on flowing, that my little girl is less little than she was yesterday, and that I need to stop often to appreciate her. Her Papa and I take her out for breakfast and I look at him watching her and know exactly how he is feeling. Look what we created. This bright, giggly, empathetic, creative toddler is ours.
There are moments when I look at Alba and my heart breaks because I am afraid I am failing her. Will she grow up daydreaming about her parents falling back in love like I did? If I am not enough for her, I hope for all of the incredible people in her life to overfill the gaps. I hope for her to grow from her struggles with the strength I already see burning in her eyes. Even so, I will never feel enough, and that is what it is to be a Mother sometimes.
Images with me were captured by Matt.