A few weeks ago I shot the first set of portraits on a project about open adoptions. The first image is Ashley Rose and her newborn daughter Delilah. Ashley lost her parents at age 7 and is a product of the California Foster system. She's been homeless, as recently as this year. In fact last week she moved into her own transitional housing apartment. It's her goal to go to college to become a veterinary technician. The second image is Shellie Nichol and her newborn daughter Delilah. Shellie is a minister and author who is also a long time foster parent and runs her own foster care non-profit. Delilah is the first child she has adopted.
Over the next 3 years I'll be taking portraits and recording interviews of both sides of an adoption: The birthmother and the adopting parent(s). After the initial work is done I'll be doing back to photograph the child every 3 years until they are 18, recording an interview with each session.
As a society we have all these conversations, honestly they are mostly shouting matches, about single mothers, teen mothers, right to life, abortions, birth control, sex education, etc. But I almost never, ever see any actual concern or interest in what happens to the child in the cases where they are carried through to birth. I also rarely see any conversations or movement in regards to creating viable alternatives to abortions, such as adoptions.
Fortunately for me my friend Lisa Sweet runs her own small non-profit here in the East Bay called the Sweet Beginnings Family Resource Center and is a state accredited Adoption Advocate in California. She works with young women, many of whom are in social services, homeless, or even in jail. Lisa gives them a very rare thing: Agency, choice and a voice in the adoption process. She also, whenever possible, helps get them the services they need to make a better life for themselves. And now she's acting as my advocate, finding couples and birthmothers who are willing to let me into their lives.
It's my hope to be able to document with 6-10 adoptions total. The project itself will take the next 20 years, give or take a year. All images are shot on medium format black and white film (yes, film), with a Mamiya C330 camera, 85mm f/2.8 lens.
Ashley Rose and her newborn daughter Delilah.
Ashley lost her parents at age 7 and is a product of the California Foster system. She's been homeless, as recently as this year. She recently moved into her own transitional housing apartment. It's her goal to go to college to become a veterinary technician.
Shellie Nichol and her newborn daughter Delilah.
Shellie is a minister and author who is also a long time foster parent and runs her own foster care non-profit. Delilah is the first child she has adopted.
I am amongst that number. After all the bills are paid, I have less than $200 a month left over. Savings? Birthday presents for loved ones? Christmas? A drink with a friend? Retirement? Emergency medical bill? A car tuneup? All of that has to be taken care of with that less than $200 a month. Even though I know that most Americans are in the same place, there is still a deep embarrassment to living paycheck to paycheck. At this age my parents owned a house. We were solidly upper middle class and lived comfortably. I'm 45 and at the opposite of that spectrum.
With "One Dollar At A Time" I'm trying to make some lemonade out of living this way but without all the sugar. That wouldn't be honest to the experience of what I feel on a daily basis: Fear. Shame. Panic at every unplanned expense. Guilt. A general sense of unease that starts every morning and settles into my heart until the moment I fall asleep.
Because I have little to no money, I am using lenses that are handmade from surplus glass elements and dollar bills. The use of dollar bills are both practical, as they roll tightly and hold structure, and symbolic. The 4x5 lithographic film is the cheapest thing I can buy at $12 for 50 sheets. My monthly budget is $30 for everything. Equipment, film, supplies and darkroom rental.
Time will tell how it all falls into place. These initial images are with a single $1 bill, a 90mm achromatic lens I got for $8, and Ilford RC printing paper negatives.