Talk


http://momfilter.com/talk/stop-here-this-is-the-placeStop Here. This is the Place.
portland

Winky Lewis is an amazing photographer based in Maine, who has been a contributor to Momfilter for years. She and her dear friend Susan created this gorgeous book, Stop Here, This is the Place, that we love and want to give our support to. Here’s their story–support them by spreading the word and/or buying their book!

Our story is about two mothers who have survived the early years of motherhood, juggled careers, maintained marriages, and raised some kids who are now almost all teens. We’re in a new kind of woods, but we’re still finding our way like all mothers. When I started to think about what we’d write for this interview, it was a typical Thursday afternoon. I’d just dropped six boys off at our local turf field about a mile away from our houses. It’s often empty before the high-schoolers get there, and it’s the perfect place for practicing your soccer shots (and videotaping your best ones to put to some cool music and package up). 

I stayed at the field for 20 minutes watching the boys. It felt like a real spring day, and even after this weird, mild Maine winter, spring is still most welcome. The light felt different too, as each season seems to me to usher its own light. I brought my camera to take pictures. I always do. Susan and I have said many times that our boys and their friends resemble puppies, and at thirteen-years-old, they still do. Then I had to drive my other kids in two different directions, so I left the field and punted the pick-up to Susan, who was able to swing by and grab them. This book of ours grew out this puzzle of juggling careers and motherhood. It’s a book based on friendship and a pure kind of collaboration.

We are a photographer (me, Winky) and a writer (Susan) in Portland, Maine. There is one house between us (owned by our dear friends Alice and Dick) on our wide street which backs up to a lovely graveyard behind our houses. We have five kids and three dogs between us, and we each have a husband too. We’ve been neighbors for 11 years and we’re good friends, and we sort of parent our kids together in a way. There has been a lot of trading off of childcare over the years, especially when the kids were all little and running from house to house, often naked or in superhero attire. We were tired then.

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Susan taught writing workshops, and founded a creative writing center in Portland called The Telling Room with a few writer friends. Then she moved to Beijing with her family for a couple years. She fought breast cancer there, and wrote a memoir about her family called The Foremost Good Fortune. A few years later she wrote a novel about another family, this one in Paris, called Paris Was the Place. I was raising my kids in Portland and trying to keep a photo career of some sort alive. Susan and I tried to collaborate on projects a few times but nothing ever got off the ground. Then one day almost three years ago at the end of another conversation about what we could possibly make together, I said to her, “What if I just send you a photograph every week and we’ll see what happens?” 

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I started sending her images from my third floor studio on Monday mornings. Susan clicked on the file and let the image sink in. She didn’t try to interpret the photo really or in any way solve it, but just looked and then moved on with the day. On Tuesday mornings she tried to wake up early before anyone else in her house and re-open the file and take another quick look and start writing. We did this 52 times without much discussion. We knew, almost without saying it, that it was better not to discuss this project or overthink it. But I couldn’t believe the stories Susan sent me each week, and I knew at the end of the year that we might just have something.

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We tried pulling a title line from one of the stories in the book where one crow on our street starts talking to another crow and says, “Stop Here. This is the Place.”  It seemed like a fit. The photos in the book are of my kids, and Susan’s kids, and the kids in the neighborhood. Everyone on our street is so used to the camera around my neck that they’ve tuned it out, and this is why so many of the photographs feel like family snapshots.

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The stories Susan wrote about the photos were linked to her experience of being a mother, and she wanted each story to feel like a real conversation between the child in the photograph and the reader—like those moments when our kids tell us things that really matter to them and do it in a low stakes way so that we aren’t expecting the impact.

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Along the way Susan and I learned to respect this project and let it grow organically. This means we didn’t censor it or judge it and in fact banished the censor somewhere down near the Maine state border. We are both proud of the book, and are grateful for the chance to slow time down with our kids. We all seem to need more time these days, and parenting can sometimes feel like a series of small endurance competitions. But inside the pages of our book, the kids appear to already know almost everything we mothers could teach them: how to hold their breath underwater. How to build cardboard wings for flight. How to say hurtful things. How to say kinder things. There’s more time in the photographs to stand stock-still in a field, or idle the hours away talking to crows. No one hurries them. Least of all the camera.”

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